Norwich Airport set for body scanners

Rob GarrattNorwich Airport could see its security bolstered by controversial body scanners following a nationwide review of anti-terrorist measures.Rob Garratt

Norwich Airport could see its security bolstered by controversial body scanners following a nationwide review of anti-terrorist measures.

The scanners, which are expected to be introduced at major airports within weeks, are one of a raft of strategies likely to be brought in across the board following an alleged Christmas Day terrorist plot to crash a plane in Detroit, USA.

Airport managing director Elliot Summers said Norwich is 'highly likely' to see the technology in place in coming months.

However, he said the scanners will only be introduced following the close of a full governmental review currently under way, and there will be no security overhaul until the order comes from above.

The scanners have fallen under the spotlight after prime minster Gordon Brown declared them an 'essential' measure in fighting terrorism.

But campaigners have hit out at the scanners, which essentially produce a 'naked' image of every passenger visible to security staff.

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Talks are currently under way between the government and the Airport Operators Associations (AOA) to decide how and when the technology will be rolled out to Norwich and other regional airports.

In the meantime guards at Norwich International Airport have stepped up the number of body searches, with every passenger now padded-down rather than just a set proportion.

Mr Summers said he would welcome body scanners, but raised concerns about the additional expense following another year in the red.

At present airports pay for their own security measures and the cost of buying multiple scanners, which cost around �100,000 a time, could cripple smaller airports like Norwich.

Mr Summers said: 'The government is in talks with the AOA and they have not yet set a timescale but have told us to expect them. We are highly likely to see body scanners in Norwich, there's just no clear direction to say when.

'We would totally embrace them - the only thing we don't embrace is the cost, it's another serious hit we don't need.

'The terrorist threat is not against Norwich Airport, and hopefully we will get some help from the government to pay for them.

'I've seen the scanners and they are very, very good - but you do see everything, which some people object to. But do you risk your bits being seen or a terrorist threat?'

The government have pledged to introduce the body scanners at Heathrow within three weeks, with other airports lined up to follow.

A spokesman for Stansted Airport confirmed the airport would follow government directives and bring the technology in when instructed.

The government are currently developing a code of practice for body scanner operators following concerns the devices could threaten child protection laws.

Campaigners have claimed the images taken by the controversial machines could breach legislation making it illegal to create indecent images of children, as well as threatening the privacy of other passengers.

Civil rights group Action On Rights For Children claim the scanners could breach the Protection of Children Act 1978, under

which it is illegal to create an indecent image or a 'pseudo-image' of a child.

Privacy International also raised concerns that scans of celebrities would be likely to find their way onto the internet.

AOA chief executive Robert Siddall said: 'Body scanners are not a new technology, but the events that happened suggest they could have a part to play in security at airports like Norwich.

'Our first priority as an industry is that passengers travel safely and this is not the time to be having a conversation about costs - I'm not going to suddenly say no because of a cost issue.

'We've got to look at them and ask are they appropriate in an airport like Norwich? But we certainly couldn't rule them out, they might be appropriate.

'But we don't want to say to Norwich airport 'you need 25 body scanners by next week' - that would be totally unrealistic.'

How the scanners work

Body scanners have been brought to the front line in the battle against terrorism following the alleged attempts of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to detonate a bomb on a plane landing in Detroit, USA, on Christmas Day.

But the technology has come under fire for leaving too little to the imagination. The scanners use X-rays to 'see' through clothes to check for the presence of concealed weapons and explosives.

They produce what is in effect a 'naked' image, showing a black and white ghost-like outline of a person's body stripped of hair or facial features.

Scans last for seven seconds and, unlike normal security checks, passengers are able to keep their jackets, shoes and belts on.

Everything from knives, guns and explosives to coins and trouser studs will show up on the image, as will bones that lie close to the skin.

In Manchester, where the scheme is being trialled, the image is seen by a remote security officer in a closed room who then electronically confirms if the passenger can proceed or whether a search is required.

Airport operators say all the images are destroyed, and that security staff are banned from carrying mobile phones and cameras when using the scanners.