No flight for you

March 7, 2010 at 2:00 am 2 comments

I know that some of you will think I’m hysterical or paranoid – take your pick – but I’m not giving up on the issue of full-body scanners. Installing these scanners at airports around the world and looking on all of us as suspects is pure theatre. To be seen to be doing something, anything.

In previous posts, I outlined my thoughts. Go here and here for a refresher course. I cynically suggested that sooner rather than later we would be denied the ability to get on a plane if our asses were hauled aside and we were asked to undergo the “privilege” of having a scan but refused. I have asked the question of whether or not Islamic women, being subjected to body scans, violates Islamic rules of public modesty.

And this week, I heard of the first example of a Muslim woman being barred from boarding a flight because she refused to undergo a full-body scan.  My understanding is that full-body scanners installed in airports like Heathrow are (for the moment) not mandatory for all passengers. What happens is security staff  “select” passengers at random or for some other reason (like passenger profiling) and haul them off for a scan.

I don’t know why this woman (and her female companion who also refused to be scanned) was selected. One would hope it’s not because she is a Muslim and therefore automatically (and stereotypically) considered to be a higher threat (because it’s the Muslims who want to blow up the world don’t you know? It couldn’t be non-Muslim sickos and whackos now could it!).  The woman decided to forfeit her ticket to Pakistan rather than suffer the indignity of a full-body scan.

Now, I am not of the Islamic faith and do not declare any special knowledge of it. But from my limited understanding of Islamic ethics, modesty is part of faith and since God knows and sees everything, a true believer would feel “shy” in front of God and therefore wish to adopt modest dress and certainly would not wish to display “one’s bits”.

The full-body scanners show the outline of passenger’s genitals. My understanding is that the  Qur’an declares it is a violation of Islamic teachings that men or women be seen naked by other men and women. Full stop. Period.

So what to do? BIG Government bleats that we need to be protected and therefore must be scanned, monitored, searched, surveilled to death. But when religion comes face to face with the Nanny State and its hysteria over security, what to do?

I’m not sure why the scanners can’t be adapted to simply show an outline of the body sans “bits and pieces” or why those of the Islamic faith or those like me, who declare full-body scanners an invasion of personal privacy, can’t simply get the pat-down, frisking business. After all, the full-body scanners did not stop the Underwear Bomber.

I know that a cat fight might be looming between the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the British Government (who have installed scanners at Heathrow and Manchester airports). The Commission has written a letter to UK Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, which you can read here.  But I’ll give you the gist of the letter:

  • the Commission has not seen sufficient evidence that the decision to deploy full-body scanners complies with the general or specific equality duties under the Race Relations Act 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (aka: dudes you might be acting in an unlawful, unfair or discriminatory manner);
  • the Commission is concerned that a full equality impact assessment was never done, which could lead to the serious risk that a measure introduced to protect the travelling public will have unintended discriminatory consequences;
  • the Commission is concerned about the implications of the introduction of body scanners for the right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (dudes: you could be in serious breach of EU privacy laws = BIG cat fight);
  • the Commission is concerned about the selection criteria for scanning.

I’m not sure if his Lordship has responded to the EHRC but clearly the Commission has fired a warning shot. Lord Adonis can be found muttering away in Hansard about passengers being selected for scanning but seems to me there is no transparency around how passengers are selected nor any indication of whether a passenger can challenge why they have been selected.

I remain unconvinced that full-body scanners will help protect us. Terrorists come in all shapes, colours, sizes and religions. I don’t think Muslims were busy conducting the paramilitary campaigns of the IRA in 1970s Northern Ireland and England. BIG government is the terrorist amongst us – by instilling fear in us to achieve political goals. I simply have to look up the definition of “terrorism” to find out who the real terrorists are:

“the calculated use of violence (or threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear”

Most likely the Israelis are chuckling about the UK and the US obsession with airport security and its blind faith in scanners and obtrusive technology. The former head of security for the Israeli national airline, El Al, has said that the airline has prevented terrorism in the air by making sure every passenger is interviewed by a well-trained agent prior to check-in. Seems sensible to me: I would not object to an interview.

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Entry filed under: Airport security, Surveillance society. Tags: , .

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