Privacy fears over airport use of body scanners

THE Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) has written to the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) over privacy rights concerns regarding the possible introduction of body scanners.

More than two weeks ago, the DAA put out to tender a contract, worth up to €2 million, for body scanners at Dublin airport.

The tender was put out partially in light of recent security concerns over aviation security following the attempted bombing of a US-bound aircraft on Christmas Day.

The DAA said that if the Department of Transport gives the go-ahead and the equipment proved successful, the scanners could be extended to Cork and Shannon airports.

The proposal has received the public backing of Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, who showed his support at a recent high-level meeting between EU justice ministers and the US Homeland Security Secretary in Spain.

But the DPC is concerned that any moves by the Irish authorities to bring in scanners goes through proper consideration and balances security needs with individual privacy rights.

“We have written to the DAA and said we note you have gone out to procurement on body scanners and that we recognise there are valid security issues in the airspace sector, but pointed out that there are genuine issues to do with privacy and that a balance has to be struck,” said Gary Davis, deputy protection commissioner.

“We fully expect any introduction of scanners will take into account privacy and data protection concerns and we have offered to make ourselves available to DAA.”

He said the core issues relate to the taking of the scan, access to the image generated and sharing of that image.

Mr Davis said there were different types of scanners in use, some of which maximised the privacy and dignity of the person by producing a skeleton-like image, while others produced quite detailed images of the person being scanned.

He noted the recent views of the European Commission transport and justice commissioners who had stressed that health, safety and privacy issues had to be taken into account.

Mr Davis was speaking following the 4th Council of Europe Data Protection Day, at which the DPC looked back at data protection issues over its 21-year history.

Britain and the Netherlands have introduced body scanners, while France and Italy plan to study their efficiency. Other countries, such as Germany and Finland, are more reluctant, citing privacy concerns.

Privacy issues and potential health impacts prompted the European Parliament in 2008 to reject plans tabled by the EU commission to introduce body scanners Europe-wide.

Incoming EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding is reportedly opposed to the use of these devices unless strict guarantees on privacy are respected.

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