Dutch officials announce full-body scans for Schiphol airport | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 30.12.2009
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Dutch officials announce full-body scans for Schiphol airport

The Netherlands says it will introduce full-body scans for passengers travelling to the United States in the wake of a plot to bomb a US passenger plane. Some senior German politicians are considering following suit.

A person being checked by a body scanner at Schiphol airport, Netherlands.

The body scanners are to come into use for US flights within three weeks

The measures are to begin in three weeks time and come in direct response to the attempted bombing of a US passenger plane bound for Detroit, which departed from the Dutch capital, Amsterdam.

Dutch Interior Minister Guusje Ter Horst speaks during a news conference in Wednesday, December 30, 2009.

Ter Horst said the scanners would 'likely' have detected the terror suspect's bomb

Dutch Interior Affairs Minister Guusje Ter Horst made the announcement from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport where she said security staff would perform full-body searches on all US-bound passengers while the airport's scanning machines were being correctly calibrated.

Ter Horst said authorities needed three weeks to "adjust the software of half of Schiphol's 15 full-body scan machines so that the images could be read and interpreted by ...computer, not by humans."

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian terrorism suspect, is alleged to have eluded security at Schiphol when he boarded a flight to Detroit with explosives in his underwear on Christmas Day. His alleged plan to bomb the flight only failed because the explosives did not detonate.

Scanners may have made the difference

Ter Horst said normal procedures were observed at Schiphol on December 25, and that regular metal detectors would not have identified the explosives.

She added that full-body scanners would "likely" have prevented the attempted attack, but said it was "impossible to give full guarantees."

In 2008, the European Parliament blocked the compulsory introduction of full-body scanners because the machines were deemed to compromise personal privacy.

Ter Horst said Schiphol's efforts to develop software to allow computers to analyze the scanners' images were aimed at satisfying the parliament's concerns.

A German federal police officer armed with a submachine gun stands guard at Frankfurt airport.

Some in Germany also want to use full-body scanners despite privacy concerns

Pressure builds for new machines

Meanwhile, Germany's interior minister Thomas de Maziere has signaled support for introducing full-body scanners - also dubbed 'nude' scanners - at German airports. He called, however, for technical improvements and strict regulations to safeguard passengers' privacy and health.

De Maziere told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that new models were currently being developed that would meet such standards.

"I cannot yet say whether we will find a solution ... but I think it is worth researching to see whether there is a machine that would protect personal rights," de Maiziere said.

Body scanners generate images of anything hidden under a person's clothes - including his or her body. While they could improve airport security, critics say they could amount to an intolerable invasion of privacy.

De Maziere said that a new generation of the scanners would blur genitals but still pick out any dangerous items hidden under a passenger's clothes.

File image of an American airport security officer using a body scanning machine

The Dutch want computers to read their machines' images instead of people

Privacy concerns

Germany's commissioner for data protection, Peter Schaar, has spoken out against the use of any such machines.

"I'm surprised how quickly people are calling for the scanners, before any of the basic questions related to them have been answered," he said.

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger rejects the devices.

"It remains to be seen whether they can be used without infringing upon people's privacy. It will depend on the technical progress of these scanners," she said.

Obama: "systemic failure"

In the United States, there has been growing anger over how Abdulmutallab was able to board a flight to the US, after it emerged that he had become known to intelligence officials.

President Barack Obama broke his vacation on Hawaii for a second day to say that "systemic failures" had occurred in the country's intelligence apparatus.

"There was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security," Obama said.

"We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system because our security is at stake and lives are at stake."

Obama was told on Tuesday that there had been warnings of a possible attack during the Christmas period. He was also told that Abdulmutallab was considered a threat by some in the intelligence community, but that this information was not passed on to other branches of the US intelligence services.

"It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect's name on a no-fly list," Obama said.

Obama has ordered two reports on the incident to be conducted by Thursday. One is to examine how the terrorism suspect eluded security at Schiphol airport and the other is to examine why he was not placed on a no-fly list.

nw/ai/ dpa/AP/AFP
Editor: Susan Houlton

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