Manchester Airport is being forced to withdraw controversial full-body scanners, after the European Commission failed to approve the technology for permanent use.
The ‘backscatter’ scanners – which produce a ‘ghost-like’ outline of a person’s naked body to detect concealments under clothing – have been criticised over claims they invade people’s privacy.
The machines have been trialled at Manchester Airport since 2009 and will be replaced by “privacy friendly” scanners in October when its three-year trial ends, airport officials said.
The new machines use radio-frequency-based millimetre wave technology, rather than lose dose x-rays to screen passengers.
They also use a computer to analyse body scans- not the human eye. The computer then alerts airport staff to potential threats on a cartoon-like figure.
Manchester Airport bosses are frustrated that Brussels has failed to mandate the technology for permanent use at the airport – despite a report by the European Commission this year which found that the scanners posed “negligible” health risks.
Until the EC made its findings, Manchester was the only European airport allowed to continue with full-body scanner trials while the EC assessed the health risks.
Health experts claim that the radiation dose from backscatter scanners is equal to two minutes flying on a plane – although some experts have concerns about the long-term health effects, which have not been ruled out.
“We’re baffled by this situation because health experts say they are safe, plus the overwhelming majority of our passengers and security staff prefer body scanners to frisking and it’s frustrating that Brussels has allowed this successful trial to end,” said Andrew Harrison, the chief operating officer at Manchester Airport Group (M.A.G).
While the EC is reluctant to approve backscatter body scanners, they are in use at many US airports.
The US Transport Security Administration (TSA) maintains that they operate “well within applicable national safety standards”.
Manchester Airport will bring in the new security scanners in October – in a trial expected to last three months.