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An example of a scan at Hamburg airport
German authorities decided against displaying nude bodiesImage: picture alliance/dpa/Fotografia

Technology trashed

August 31, 2011

Germany has backed down on plans to install full-body scanners at airports after testing showed the accuracy of the technology to be wanting. Sources said nearly half of those scanned were incorrectly flagged.


The German government has backed down on plans to install full-body security scanners at airports around the country after the devices reportedly performed poorly during a 10-month testing phase.

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said Wednesday that two trial machines installed at Hamburg airport returned too many false readings in which passengers were incorrectly identified as carrying suspicious objects.

Sources told German news agency DPA that as many as 49 percent of passengers were incorrectly flagged as warranting hand searching. Of those scanned, only 15 percent were found to be carrying prohibited items in their pockets.

Friedrich said the technology used in the scanners had to be made more efficient and effective before Germany would consider adopting the machines in its more than 50 airports.

"The federal police will closely support development in this field so that hopefully devices will soon be available that meet our high safety standards and take passenger volume into account," Friedrich said in a statement to the press.

A nude image of a woman's scanned body
Early body scanners turned up nude images of those scannedImage: AP

He added, however, that he still felt full-body scanners had the potential to make airport security checks considerably faster and smoother, though stopped short of speculating on when the technology would be ready for application.

The scanners work in a similar way to infrared cameras, using what are known as millimeter waves, which pick up heat signals emitted by the human body. They are capable of detecting knives, explosives and firearms that may be strapped to a passenger's body and cannot be picked up by metal detectors.

The technology has proven controversial, with early devices creating a nude image of the passenger. The German test machines were optimized to avoid showing an individual's nude body, instead displaying a generic human body with patches of color indicating where items may be concealed.

Airport body scanners have long been in use in the United States, whilst European governments have held off on the technology.

Author: Darren Mara (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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