Changi Airport tests scanners that don't show too much body

A NEW type of body scanner that addresses privacy concerns by producing generic stick-figure images instead of body contours will be tested at Changi Airport.

The machine, which will be tried out on random flights at Terminal 3, can detect weapons, explosives, drugs and other contraband items concealed on the body. It could be in use by as early as next month.

A police spokesman told The Straits Times that other details, such as whether body screening will be made compulsory or if alternative scanning methods will be available, have not been worked out.

Singapore Airlines spokesman Nicholas Ionides said the airline - the biggest carrier at Terminal 3 - will continue to cooperate with airport authorities in their efforts to enhance safety.

This will be the third body-screening technology test at Changi. Two earlier trials in 2010 and 2008 ended with no further action taken. Police did not say why these were not continued, but said they will keep exploring new technology.

The Straits Times understands that there had been privacy issues over the "nude" scanners.

The use of such detectors, which reveal body contours, has drawn some criticism elsewhere.

Experts have also warned that they exposed travellers to a small amount of radiation, which at higher doses has been linked to cancer.

There are currently no body scanners in use at Changi Airport, which relies on other security measures such as metal detectors.

With the new scanning technology, privacy concerns are "mitigated", the police spokesman said.

During earlier trials, scanned images of travellers who walked through the machine were analysed by female officers in a room in another part of the airport. They were deleted automatically if nothing was amiss. While on duty, the officers also could not carry cameras or other photographic equipment.

But such procedures will not be necessary for the impending trial.

The spokesman said: "The latest version of the body scanner addresses privacy concerns, where the operator sees an image of a generic mannequin with a human outline."

In the United States where body-screening technology has been used for several years, the Transportation Security Administration has ordered machines that reveal body contours to be replaced with the stick-figure type.

The new technology, which is in use at airports in countries such as Canada, Britain, South Korea and Australia, often requires passengers to step into a special booth which produces an image on a computer screen.

Aviation security expert John Harrison, of the US National Defence University, said the new technology appears promising in addressing privacy concerns.

However, he added, there have also been issues of reliability, which have seen countries such as France and Germany stop using the machines.

Prof Harrison said: "The key thing to remember is that the most effective way to protect aviation, and the society as a whole, is good intelligence. A former official at the London Underground said it best when he said, 'Trust technology and it will fail, trust your people and they will succeed'.

"Aviation security does too much of the former."

karam@sph.com.sg

Comments