March 3, 2010
Muslim woman refuses body scan at airport
The introduction of scanners has been criticised by human rights groups
A Muslim woman was barred from boarding a flight after she refused to undergo a full body scan for religious reasons.
The passenger was passing through security at Manchester Airport when she was selected at random for a full-body scanner.
She was warned that she would be stopped from boarding the plane but she decided to forfeit her ticket to Pakistan rather than submit to the scan. Her female travelling companion also declined to step into the scanner, citing “medical reasons” for her refusal.
The two women are thought to be the first passengers to refuse to submit to scanning by the machines, which have provoked controversy among human rights groups.
They were introduced on a limited basis last month at Heathrow and Manchester airports in response to the alleged attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a jet over Detroit on Christmas Day using explosives concealed in his underpants.
The X-ray machines allow security officials to check for concealed weapons but they also afford clear outlines of passengers’ genitals. They are due to be introduced in all airports by the end of the year.
Civil liberties campaigners have said the scans represent an invasion of privacy and their introduction may yet be challenged by the Human Rights Commission.
Trevor Phillips, head of the commission, has told Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, that there are concerns over passengers’ privacy and an apparent lack of safeguards to ensure that the scanners are used without discrimination.
Sources at Manchester Airport have said the two women were due to board a flight two weeks ago when they were turned back at security.
No other passengers had objected to the checks and about 15,000 have so far submitted to the piercing eye of the £80,000 Rapiscan machine at the airport’s Terminal 2.
The second female passenger was said to be concerned because she had an infection. They may be the first to be turned back for their refusal to be scanned, though a spokesman for Heathrow said it could not comment on individual cases.
At Manchester, a spokeswoman said: “Two female passengers who were booked to fly out of Terminal Two refused to be scanned for medical and religious reasons.
“In accordance with the government directive on scanners, they were not permitted to fly. Body scanning is a big change for customers who are selected under the new rules and we are aware that privacy concerns are on our customers’ minds, which is why we have put strict procedures to reassure them that their privacy will be protected.”
Last month, Lord Adonis stressed that an interim code of practice on the use of body scanners stipulated that passengers would not be selected “on the basis of personal characteristics”.
He said that images captured by body scanners would be immediately deleted after the passenger had gone through and that security staff were appropriately trained and supervised.
Objectors to the scanners, and indeed the two women who forfeited their flight last month, have an unlikely ally in Pope Benedict XVI, a man who is likely to be waved through airport security for the rest of his life.
Last month he told an audience from the aerospace industry that, notwithstanding the threat from terrorism, “the primary asset to be safeguarded and treasured is the person, in his or her integrity”.