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UK to launch airport body scanners in few weeks

EU demands privacy and health concerns answered

Britain will introduce its first full-body scanners at London's Heathrow airport in about three weeks' time in the wake of the failed Detroit plane bombing, a minister said Tuesday.

Airports will also be ordered to increase the proportion of people they search by hand and whose baggage they test for traces of explosives, while there will be more sniffer dogs, British Home Secretary Alan Johnson added.

"It is clear that no one measure will be enough to defeat inventive and determined terrorists, and there is no single technology which we can guarantee will be 100 per cent effective against such attacks," Johnson told lawmakers.

Detailing new measures agreed following the Dec. 25 failed attack, he said the first full-body scanners will be deployed in around three weeks at Heathrow. Over time, they will be introduced more widely.

He acknowledged that "there may be some additional delays as airports adapt," but added: "I am sure the travelling public will appreciate the reasons behind this".

He also sought to allay fears that the new scanners would break laws against creating indecent images of children.

Privacy campaigners told the Guardian that the images created by the machines were so graphic they amounted to "virtual strip searching" and have called for safeguards to protect the privacy of passengers involved.

Terri Dowty, of civil rights group Action on Rights for Children, said the scanners could breach child protection laws, which made it illegal to create an indecent image or a "pseudo-image" of a child.

But Johnson told the House of Commons: "We are discussing urgently with the airport industry the best way of doing all this, which will include a code of practice dealing with operational and privacy issues."

It is clear that no one measure will be enough to defeat inventive and determined terrorists, and there is no single technology which we can guarantee will be 100 per cent effective against such attacks

British Home Secretary Alan Johnson

Other countries

Canada, the Netherlands and Nigeria are among other countries introducing scanners.

Canada has a particularly large number of flights to the United States, and passengers even clear U.S. customs at the big Canadian airports.

Some countries, led by the United States, have announced additional security measures at airports since Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was charged with trying to blow up a US-bound jet on Christmas Day.

Abdulmutallab, 23, reportedly confessed to being trained by an al-Qaeda bomb maker in Yemen for the suicide mission on the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

It was foiled when explosives sewn into the man's underwear failed to detonate, and passengers jumped on him.

EU concerns

The European Union demanded Tuesday that privacy and health concerns over body scanners be answered before it backs their mass introduction after the failed Christmas jet attack in the United States.

E.U. security experts are to meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss emergency measures while U.S. Homeland Security Department officials held talks in Brussels on Tuesday.

The E.U. "considers body scanners, if they meet the health standards and security standards, as a useful additional tool providing they do not contradict existing European legislation," an E.U. commission transport spokeswoman said.

The main health concerns are over the x-rays and electro-magnetic waves given off by the scanners. But many health experts say the risk is minimal.

The United States has demanded compulsory extra security on all flights from 14 nations and random extra checks on flights from other nations.

Pakistan is one of the 14 nations singled out. However Sultan Hasan, spokesman for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), said there had been "no resistance or protests" to the new security measures."In fact, they are very cooperative as they realize that we do all this for their own safety."

Lebanon is also on the list. The Arab-language An-Nahar daily, citing well-informed sources, said the decision to place Lebanon on the list was linked to security at Beirut airport, which is in the southern suburbs ubder the domination militant group Hezbollah.

In fact, they are very cooperative as they realize that we do all this for their own safety

Sultan Hasan