Government and Policy

China airports may get full-body scanners

By Xin Dingding and Wang Yan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-19 07:21
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X-ray machine produces 'naked' pictures of airline passengers

China has not ruled out the possibility of installing body scanners at major airports, a top civil aviation official said.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is still considering the pros and cons of the body scanner, since it involves passengers' privacy, Li Jiaxiang, head of CAAC, has revealed.

"It is our concern that while we must ensure flight safety, passengers should not feel deprived of dignity or freedom when going through security checks," he said.

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The United States has announced plans to install full body scanners at all its major airports following a foiled Christmas Day bid to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. So far, media reports said 19 American airports already use at least one such scanner.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Britain, the Netherlands and Italy are among countries that have announced plans to use full-body scanners.

The use of these machines, which cost $200,000 each, has sparked a heated debate over privacy, because scanning penetrates packaging and clothing, and produces "naked" images of passengers.

But, no matter how advanced the security-check measures are, it is not possible to close every loophole, Chinese counter-terrorism expert Li Wei said.

"Machines are operated by people, and people could get tired or not be alert enough," said Li, who is director of the center for counter-terrorism studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

"The expensive full-body scanner is not a must in China Airports could enhance the sensitiveness of the metal scanners, giving every passenger a pat-down to prevent incidents like the foiled Christmas Day attack," he said.

The CAAC has not come to the final decision, but Li said security checks at major airports have been strengthened to the level of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Nine security measures have been added, including deploying more air police in plain clothes onboard airplanes and giving more hand checks on luggage.

A second security check is also arranged for passengers boarding high-risk flights, especially flights to the United States, he said.

But airplane passengers said the tightened security checks resulted in a longer time to board flights, and a quickened security check process is preferred, even if it means that privacy might be exposed.

Shi Rui, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, who flew from Shanghai with a US Northwest Airlines flight on Jan 10, said she was surprised by the unexpected long queue in front of the boarding gate and was a little annoyed by the long wait.

"The second checkup was in the passenger loading bridge. We thought the bridge was empty, but then, after a turn, suddenly we saw the long queue," she said.

Two officers were giving passengers a pat-down, while four others, standing behind steel tables, searched every bag.

"You can also expect an additional check near the luggage check-in counter, where airport staff randomly scoured through passengers' luggage before they are checked in," she said.

"It is the same measure adopted in the summer of 2008."

Cheng Yuan, another Chinese student who flew from Beijing to the US on Jan 13 with United Airlines, also went through the same security procedure at the Beijing Capital International Airport.

"I am accustomed to the complicated security checks (at airports)," he said.

"But airports should do their job to streamline the process and use necessary high-tech facilities, which can save time and trouble while making flights safer.

"The full-body scanner is acceptable... Exposing one's body to only a couple of security officers is nothing," he said.