Europe of Human Rights

Body scanners have become a common sight in EU airports, with the number of machines increasing regularly. Most stand quiet, waiting for a justifiable and well-founded moment to be put into action. Some, however, are used frequently, often in circumstances that raise questions and doubts as to the protection of human dignity and privacy and the rationality of the scanners’ use.

On 6 July 2011, referencing these concerns and stressing the need to protect human dignity, the European Parliament adopted a resolution concerning the use of body scanners. The resolution is a response to the 15 June 2010 Communication of the European Commission on the Use of Security Scanners at EU Airports (COM (2010)311), in which the EC considered the introduction of body scanners across the EU to increase travelers’ security. However, the respect of fundamental rights is at stake.

The EP emphasized that selection for scanning should be random, without any discriminatory criteria – the use of “sex, race, colour, ethnicity, genetic features, language, religion or belief [to choose candidates for scanning] is unacceptable”. The resolution also stressed that particular attention should be paid to the welfare of pregnant women, children, the elderly and the disabled, and all passengers should have the right to refuse body scanning and request alternative screening methods. Regarding the scanned images themselves, the EP stated that data processed during scanning “must be destroyed right after the person has passed through the security control and may not be stored” and “the technology used must not have the capabilities to store or save data”.

The European trend of increased body scans does not seem to apply at Warsaw Chopin Airport where, despite possessing body scanners, customs guards often prefer to order a personal search. The case of Mr. Shaminder Puri might serve as an example. A British Sikh who leaves in Poland but works internationally. Mr. Puri often travels from Warsaw Chopin Airport; several times in the years 2009-2010, guards requested that he enter a private room in order to dismantle his turban for security reasons. Each time, he refused, stating that his religion interdicts the removal of the head cover. He instead asked that an alternative security screening measure be used, such as a body scanner or explosive detection equipment. His requests, however, were denied, and Mr. Puri was fined 500 PLN (approx. 120 EUR) for refusing the security checks. Mr. Puri now seeks compensation for the violation of his dignity by security personnel. He states that he has never before been subjected to such treatment in any other airport, though on other occasions his hands have been scanned for the presence of explosive substances after being required to touch his turban.

The Polish case of Shaminder Puri is an example demonstrating that dignity and privacy protection, as well as rationality, should be top priorities of airport security services, not only regarding the use of body scanners but in all means of airport security checks. The proportionality of the interference balanced against the right to human dignity should be remembered on every possible occasion. The European Commission will soon deliver a decision on a proposed legislative act regarding the use of body scanners at the airports of Member States; the Parliament will have the power to overturn that decision within the following three months. Officials should, however, take into consideration that body scanners might be a solution in some cases, interfering less with dignity, privacy and religion rights than other means, with Mr. Puri’s case serving as a warning.

Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, Coordinator of “Europe of Human Rights”


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  1. The Border Guards of Poland seriously need to get their act together. They seem to be intransigent, illiterate and worst of all arrogant in particular their top hiererachy. They are under educated about human rights and ignorant about cultural values. Further, and most worryingly, they cannot separate real security threats from pre concieved and prejudicial perceptions – there is evidence of this aplenty – just search a few chat sites…

    With Poland holding the Presidency of the EU at present, their Ministry of the Interior should take their Border Gurad service to task. They bring shame to Poland – this is a welcoming country, a country where the ordianry people are tolerant and keen to be hospitable – not the ignoramuses of the Border Guard – these are village idiots, recruited into a dense Service to carry out dunce’s tasks.

    Grow up Polish Border Guard!

  2. Governments do not have the right to make strip searches routine and mandatory, regardless of whether the strip search is done by physically removing clothes or by using technological means to remove the clothes.

  3. I returned to the UK after having spent this weekend in Poland. I had read up on Mr. Puri’s experience and purposefully avoided wearing a turban to save myself from any degrading treatment on the in bound flight. As i approached security, in front of me was an elderly man wearing a fedora style hat and just in front of him, a nun wearing a religious head dress. Neither of them was asked to remove these items as they passed through security and i too passed through without being asked to remove my patka. It would seem the Polish border guards in Warsaw have changed their policy. I found Warsaw to be as tolerant and cosmopolitan as any other large european city I have visited.

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