News24

Scanners may breach rights

2010-02-16 10:06

London - Full body scanners introduced at two British airports after the failed Christmas Day bombing of a US-bound jet may breach human rights, the country's equality commission warned on Tuesday.

In a letter to the government, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said scanners introduced on February 1 at London's Heathrow and Manchester airports could run counter to the right to privacy in European law.

"While we acknowledge that there is a legitimate aim for this invasion of privacy... we remain seriously concerned whether the intrusion is in accordance with the law," wrote commission chairperson Trevor Phillips.

Eroding freedoms

The right to privacy comes under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The commission expressed support for the authorities' review of security policies but warned it would be the "ultimate defeat" if this eroded freedoms.

"National security policies are intended to protect our lives and our freedoms, but it would be the ultimate defeat if that protection destroyed our other liberties," wrote Phillips.

The scanners, brought in after the attempted attack on a jet bound for Detroit from Amsterdam, also risk breaking British anti-discrimination laws, said the commission.

"Without proper care, such policies can end up being applied in ways which do discriminate against vulnerable groups or harm good community relations," said the commission.

The body felt it was likely some criteria used to select people to be scanned like "religious dress, destination, nationality or national origin, would also have an unlawful... discriminatory effect", said the letter.

Code of practice

Britain plans to roll the scanners out to other airports but the commission said it had "serious doubts" that would this would comply with the law.

The transport ministry said it tried to ensure security measures were "legal, proportionate and non-discriminatory" and denied there were criteria to select people to be scanned.

A spokesperson said officials had "been absolutely clear that those passengers who are randomly selected for screening will not be chosen because of any personal characteristics".

He added the ministry had "published an interim code of practice which addresses privacy concerns in relation to body scanners".

The United States has accelerated installation of body scanners at airports after Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was charged with trying to down the passenger plane.

Britain is among several European countries, including The Netherlands, installing the scanners.