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Body scanner
Body scanners look set to be introduced in Europe this yearImage: AP

Russian spies

January 21, 2010

A meeting of the EU's interior and justice ministers takes place this Thursday to discuss the introduction of body scanners. But the scanners, which show passengers naked, have been in use in Russia for three years.


All 27 of the European Union's interior and justice ministers are expected to be present at an informal meeting in Toledo, Spain on Thursday to discuss airport security and the introduction of so-called body scanners. The discussion is the EU's response to the failed terrorist attack on a Delta Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit at the end of December.

Privacy concerns

The scanners have sparked controversy because they allow security personnel to see nude images of passengers, and many critics condemn them as an unethical intrusion into privacy.

While most EU countries are still agonizing over the pros and cons, the scanners have been part of the daily routine for passengers and security agents for almost three years at Moscow's Domodevodo Airport, the most modern airport in Russia.

Thomas de Maiziere
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere will take part in Thursday's meetingImage: DPA

The procedure is simple: a security official asks the passenger to raise his or her arms and step into a plexi-glass cabin. There the passenger hears a short buzzing sound, and a digital 3D image of the passenger's body appears on a screen in a closed-off cabin, to be scrutinized by another security guard.

Passenger apathy

Many Russian passengers are unconcerned by the security measures, which have been in place at the airport for three years. "I don't even notice them anymore and I don't care who is looking at me. I don't have any complexes. It is matter of security, it has to be done." Marina, a 41-year-old Russian on her way to Kaliningrad told Deutsche Welle. Her husband added, "Security has priority over everything – there is no health-risk and I don't have anything to hide."

A scan takes just two seconds, and long waiting lines have been rare at the security checkpoints since the full-body scanners were introduced in March 2007. The scanners have also led to a cut in the number of security staff, so the initial cost of around 200,000 euros ($282,500) for each of the 15 scanners has paid off, says the airport's director of business development, Daniel Burkard. The airport was among the first in Europe to use full-body scanners.

Burkard explains why the scanners were introduced. "When the problems in the Caucasus were more acute, we had a situation here that was a little bit more dangerous than in other countries," he told DW.

Moscow's Domodevodo Airport
Moscow's Domodevodo Airport is considered one of Russia's most modernImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Safer rays

Following a test phase, the airport chose scanners from the US that use radio waves rather than X-rays. The airport claims the radiation a passenger is exposed to when being scanned is 10,000 times lower than that given off by a ringing mobile phone.

Burkard believes that the ethical concerns are just as irrelevant as the health issues. "I find the discussion about 'personal spheres' that is under way in some parts of Europe a bit strange," he says. "One has to decide: either you have someone looking at your scan from farther away, or you have someone pat you down from close by."

Surprise scans

But many passengers at Domodedovo's international terminal are surprised when they realize that they have just been sent through one of the controversial body scanners. People who feel uncomfortable with being scanned can insist on going through the old procedure, but most are not made aware of this right and are simply led through the scanners.

"I didn't know that it was introduced here – that is number one," an Austrian passenger told DW. "And number two: I am less worried about intimacy than about the question of personal freedom - do I want someone else to see me like this?"

Despite such concerns, Burkard expects more and more airports to turn to body scanners sooner or later, both for security reasons and for the sake of efficiency.

Mareike Aden (bk)
Editor: Rick Demarest

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