Body Scanning and Data Protection

By | Category: Travel rumblings

You may not have known that January 28th was Data Protection Day. It isn’t one of those events that you can buy greetings cards for and it doesn’t really make the newspapers. But is the day that whoever is in charge of data protection in the EU gives us their views. Viviane Redding, the current EU commissioner left the issue of bodyscanners towards the end of her speech. I quote

“This leads me to body scanners. I am convinced that body scanners have a considerable privacy-invasive potential. Their usefulness is still to be proven. Their impact on health has not yet been fully assessed. Therefore I cannot imagine this privacy-intrusive technique being imposed on us without full consideration of its impact. Why should citizens have to reveal their personal information in order to prove that they have nothing to hide?”

In one paragraph, she has summed up the situation that all holidaymakers face flying abroad.

To try and give brief answers to these questions, bodyscanners may be useful but they are not perfect. It appears they can’t pick up certain substances judged by tests made so far. But if they deter potential terrorists and make passengers feel more secure, then that is useful. Surely the question is not whether they are useful but are they effective in locating any likely substance that can be used for terrorism?

As to whether they are safe, we had some scare stories in the press a few weeks ago which were quickly countered by scientists saying that x-ray machines emit more radiation than these machines. Quite frankly, get two scientists together and you probably will have opposing views. The consensus seems to be that that it isn’t 100% safe but neither is flying in the first place. Concerns about pregnant women and small children means they may have to be treated differently.

 Finally, the key question that doesn’t only affect travellers but everyone. Why should we have to prove we are innocent? I agree that we shouldn’t have to. Practically, that doesn’t seem to be the way the world works these days.

In ending her speech she said, “I want to make sure that our EU legislation and international agreements are based on evidence rather than on emotional responses to the latest scare.” Well I’m afraid that’s not the real world. Politicians love knee jerk reactions because voters can see they are doing something. After attempted terrorist attacks, politicians can’t say that they might have some thoughts but they need a year or so to see if there are any problems. “Action this day”, Churchill used to write to his subordinates. And that’s what politicians provide whether it works or not!

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