Tuesday, January 12, 2010

EU justice chief-designate urges caution on scanners

Reuters -

The European Union should not rush into introducing full-body scanners at airports but give consideration to privacy and health questions, the EU's justice commissioner-designate said on Tuesday.

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 devices.

The United States plans to accelerate their use and wants to push other states to install the scanners, which produce a complete image of the body underneath clothes, to improve airport security.

"We need to look at less intrusive means," Viviane Reding told the European Parliament during hearings of nominees for EU commissioners.

"Human beings have dignity and every measure has to be clarified first. Does it respect human dignity, does it respect privacy and does it respect health?"

The Commission had proposed regulations in 2008 that included the introduction of body scanners at airports, but the proposal was voted down by the European Parliament. Some of its members had said they amounted to a "virtual strip search."

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.


Last week, the EU's counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove said he was in favor of using the devices across the EU and asked for swift EU regulation of their use.

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 told Reuters.

However, Reding said in issues such as the scanners, the EU should find better balance between protecting against terrorist attacks and respecting privacy.

This should also include future negotiations within the EU on a permanent agreement with the U.S. on the transfer of international bank data, which has raised concerns within the bloc over privacy protection.

"We have to have a very clear line on this. We must never be driven by fear but by our values," Reding told parliamentarians.

An interim agreement between the EU and Washington over bank data, which the U.S. says is a vital part of its counterterroism efforts, will expire this year.

The European Parliament is due to vote whether to the new Commission line-up on January 26.