A proposed plan to introduce full-body security scanners at airports around Europe plunged the EU into a debate about privacy and decency. Now it has another problem arising from the hardware.
The EU argued about the scanners on the issues of privacy and decency
"For Sale: Six security scanners in original packing, never used. Perfect for airport checks and entrances at highly sensitive locations. Sold separately or as one job lot. Open to offers of around 120,000 euros ($158,000) each."
At first glance, this (fabricated) advert may suggest that the European Union is feeling the pinch in the current financial climate and is looking to put some much needed extra revenue back into its coffers. But on closer inspection, the ad reveals not that the EU is hard-up for cash and has to sell off its equipment but that it is ready to offload some controversial hardware due to its embarrassing nature.
Taking a closer look at the small print, one can see why: "Caution – these scanners can provide unwanted and intrusive naked images."
The scanners in question, currently being stored in the basements of the European Parliament buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg, have been at the center of a heated debate since October when EU nations began arguing over plans to introduce the body scanners at airports around the continent.
Those in favor stressed the need for such equipment in the fight against terrorism while others opposed the scanners over concerns about voyeurism.
A question of dignity and security
The scanner shows up guns and bombs -- and everything else
Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German interior minister, was one of the opponents to the plan. Schaeuble spoke of the threat to passengers' "dignity" as they appeared naked on screens while the scanner seeks out arms, explosives, drugs and other illicit items.
"I don't want the police to run the risk of being accused of voyeurism," Schaeuble told a press conference at the time. "If we manage to invent scanners that don't produce images then we could use them," he added.
Schaeuble's French counterpart Michele Alliot-Marie was in favor of the scanners, for security not voyeuristic reasons. Alliot-Marie recognized the need "to respect everyone's rights" but added "we must use, with great determination, all advanced technology to fight the terrorists and major criminals, because they know perfectly well how to use it and are often a jump ahead of us," she stressed.
Germany researching alternatives as EU shelves plan
Schaeuble's comments eventually led to the start of laboratory tests in Germany in which scientists began working on potential upgrades to the full-body airport screening devices in the hope they would find a way to produce images that do not show passengers naked.
The EU shelved its plans to introduce the scanners around the bloc in November after several were tested in airports around Europe as part of a trial.
EU parliamentarians will now discuss how the scanners in their possession will be sold -- and to whom.