The body peeper

22 October 2008

The body peeper

It sounds like something used in an annual check-up, but the bodyscan is actually a security device. Already being given a trial run at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, the bodyscan produces a kind of X-ray enabling a security guard to look right through your clothing to see whether you are carrying a gun next to your skin, or a knife down your underpants. No longer can any nook or cranny of your body escape Big Brother's investigating eye. Only after the debate did MEPs receive the information necessary to decide whether this was acceptable.

Virtual visitation

Dutch daily De Telegraaf, Wednesday morning: "The European Parliament is more than usually annoyed over European Commission plans for the introduction into European airports of a peeping bodyscan which can see right through clothing. On the initiative of the European Liberals (ALDE) the EP will, later this week, adopt a resolution which calls the European Commission to account over this."

The European Parliament had in fact by yesterday held no discussion on the matter. It was therefore premature to write that the the EP 'will' adopt the resolution. Given the debate within the ALDE even the unity of their own group is in question. The scan issue was tabled by the Transport Committee. But the sticking points are much more to do with the areas of concern of an entirely different parliamentary committee, the one which deals with the fundamental rights of citizens. Who will guard the guards? How long will records be kept? Why has no study been made of the health effects of the bodyscan?

Scarcely self-evident

The bodyscan did in the end appear on the agenda of the plenary meeting in Strasbourg. On behalf of the SP, Erik Meijer took the floor. Because the Dutch Liberals of the VVD had cried their wrath from the rooftops, it was somewhat surprising that they took no part in the debate. All that was said of the matter came in the form of an amended agenda, which was not widely distributed. Erik Meijer called the bodyscan's introduction "a measure which perhaps appears defensible in connection with transport security and combating terrorism, but the justification of which from other angles is scarcely self-evident." Meijer drew attention to the outpouring of irresponsible media reports. "If the bodyscan is a good tool, it's being poorly presented. Certainly as long as the consequences for health and privacy remain unknown, it should not be brought into use. Precisely because people feel threatened by other developments, there is reason for caution."

SP Success

It seems in prospect that the European Commission will this week receive another slap on the wrist via a parliamentary resolution over this "extremely delicate matter touching upon the fundamental rights of the citizens". There has, after all, to paraphrase the proposed text, been no attention paid to the need for a broad, transparent and open debate in which passengers, interested parties and institutions at EU and national level can be involved.

In an attempt to limit somewhat the growing political damage, European Commissioner Antonio Tajani this evening "guaranteed" to Erik Meijer that noone would be forced to undergo a bodyscan, saying that "There must always be an alternative". A notable success for the SP.

Look with your fingers....

Peace of mind for the air traveller who doesn't relish a virtual visitation? If you don't want the security guards to be able to see right through your clothing, then old-fashioned methods of attack will be used. Guards who can't look with their eyes, will have to look with their fingers....

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