Better data management is more effective than new body scanning technology in airports, according to European experts
More effective sharing of data with the US would be a better way to prevent terrorism than the use of new high-tech body scanners, members of the European Parliament have said.
Better use of data was key to combating terrorism in aviation, particularly in light of intelligence failures over the attempted bombing of a plane over Detroit at Christmas, EU Counter-terrorism co-ordinator Gilles de Kerkhove said in the EU’s Civil Liberty Committee. He said he was looking forward to the results of an “impact evaluation” on body scanners to be published by the European commission in the coming weeks.
“The Detroit flight confirms that civil aviation remains a key target for terrorists” said de Kerkhove. “Besides the importance of data sharing, there is a need to improve our ability to digest data coming from different sources” and added the Detroit attempt came “mainly from a failure to connect the dots”.
A Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has been charged with attempting to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on its way to Detroit airport on Christmas Day.
So-called Active Millimeter Wave scanners are being touted as a possible way to thwart similar attacks after it was discovered that Abdulmutallab hid explosives in his underwear.
De Kerkhove added that while he looked forward to the EC report on body scanners, an agreement with the US on sharing terrorist watch lists was an equally important step. “Much more can be done than deploying new devices in airports,” he said.
The decision to launch the investigation into the body scanners was reached by the EC last October to ascertain whether the devices are really effective and also the impact on health and fundamental rights.
On the issue of body scanners, Maltese MEP Simon Busuttil said that the investigation of body scanners should include possible impact on waiting times at airports. “We should not start with a no or with a yes,” he said, but address “legitimate questions” on “quite intrusive instruments”.
“Will passengers have to be at the airport three hours before the flight leaves?” he asked.
UK Conservative MEP Philip Bradbourn said “No matter how much technology you have, terrorists will manage to circumvent it.” He quoted recent expert claims that body scanners would not have detected the bomb on the Amsterdam-Detroit terrorist, and said the problem lay in “systemic failure in exchange of information”, as the US President had recently concluded.
Privacy campaigning group Privacy International argues that scanning technology is still unproven and could be a dangerous distraction from more effective and efficient ways to combat terrorism. “The jury is still out on whether this technology has any overall security value. A four-year trial at London’s Heathrow Airport that ended last year resulted in a decision to discontinue using the scanners,” the organisation said in a statement.
“Security is a zero sum game,” said the Privacy International statement. “We have a finite amount of money to be spent on fighting the war on terrorism. Every dollar spent on non-productive airport security is one less dollar to be spent on the traditional police and intelligence work that thwarted the recently exposed plot, or that should have been employed to tie together the various threads that would have kept the accused terrorist off the flight to Detroit.”
Misguided use of terror resources recently reached the level of farce, when a man who joked on Twitter that he would blow up RobinHood airport was arrested and suspended from work.