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Germany

Hamburg airport launches trial run for body scanners amid privacy concerns

Hamburg airport on Monday began a six-month test of full-body scanners to screen passengers for potentially dangerous objects. But the invasive searches have stirred privacy concerns.

Thomas de Maiziere in the scanner

De Maziere was one of the first to go through the scanner

Germany began its six-month test period of two full-body scanners at Hamburg airport on Monday as critics continued to denounce the technology as too invasive.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere was one of the first to pass through one of the scanners, saying he did not feel cramped or uncomfortable inside.

“Today is an important step on the way to better security in German airports,” he said.

The German interior ministry, which is responsible for the project, selected Hamburg for the trial run under real airport conditions because it is large, but not so large that technical glitches would seriously disrupt the flow of passenger traffic. Hamburg is Germany's fifth largest airport and serves about 12 million passengers annually.

Full-body scanners are already in use in the United States and several European countries but, due to widespread privacy concerns, Germany has been slow to test the technology. Until now, the machines had only been tested in the laboratory at the federal police academy in Luebeck.

The scanners use low-frequency electromagnetic waves to sweep a schematic representation of the human body to check for concealed weapons or explosives. Passengers walk through a three-meter (10 foot) high and two-meter wide cabin and are scanned by the waves, which the machine's manufacturer says are 10,000-times weaker than the ordinary electro-smog from cell phones.

German Data Protection Commissioner, Peter Schaar, at a press conference

Critics, like Peter Schaar, warn that scanners are too invasive

Scanners 'too invasive', critics warn

Privacy advocates oppose the use of the technology because they say it is too invasive and could reveal embarrassing details about a passenger. Peter Schaar, Germany's Federal Commissioner for Data Protection, cautioned that “very sensitive areas” of a person's private life could be revealed, such as breast implants, colostomies or other medical aids.

Security experts argue, however, that the scanners are indispensable because they detect things, like plastic explosives and ceramic weapons, which conventional metal detectors would not discover.

This has not stopped some countries, notably Italy, from scrapping the scanners. After a six-month trial at airports in Rome, Venice and Palermo, the machines are no longer in use after being deemed too slow and ineffective.

"We didn't get good results during testing,” said Vito Riggio, the president of Italy's aviation authority. “It takes a long time to examine a person; more than a manual inspection,"

Author: Gregg Benzow, Andrew Bowen (dpa/apn/AFP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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