January 8, 2010 / 5:02 PM / 10 years ago

EU anti-terrorism chief backs airport body scanners

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - All European Union countries should introduce full-body scanners at airports to improve security, the EU anti-terrorism chief said on Friday.

Britain, the Netherlands, France and Italy have announced plans to install the scanners at airports since the failed Christmas Day bombing of a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, but there is no EU-wide obligation to use the scanners.

The European Parliament opposes their enforced introduction because of concern over health, privacy and cost.

But Gilles de Kerchove, the EU counter-terrorism coordinator, said he believed they should be used across the EU.

“I am in favor of a full body scan,” he told Reuters. “There is a need for the EU to harmonize the deployment of full body scans because at least two or four member states are starting to deploy them.”

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, proposed regulations in 2008 that included the introduction of body scanners at airports, but the proposal was voted down by the European Parliament.

Deputies described the scans, which produce a complete image of the body underneath clothes, as “virtual strip searches” and one parliamentarian called them indecent.

But pressure to improve security and tighten rules has grown since a 23-year-old Nigerian was charged with trying to detonate explosives on a flight from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport to Detroit on December 25.

Full-body scanners, unlike the standard archway metal detectors used at airports around the world, use radio waves to generate a picture of the body that sees through a person’s clothing and spots hidden weapons or explosives.

Kerchove said the latest generation of the devices offered better privacy protection by blurring some body images. “There are tools to avoid hurting a person’s dignity,” he said.

He also urged the European Parliament to complete negotiations with the United States on the sharing of passenger data to improve vetting procedures.

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