Child Porn Laws Impede Airport Searches

The British government today outlined its security crackdown at airports.

BySONIA GALLEGO
January 05, 2010, 2:33 PM

Jan. 5, 2010— -- The British government today outlined its plans for security crackdowns at airports but said it will need to examine the legalities of the new security regulations, as well as scramble to implement them in the wake of the Christmas Day bomb plot.

The disruption caused by Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab's failed attempt to destroy a Northwest Airlines plane with a bomb hidden in his underwear has highlighted the gaps in air travel security, and has led the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to begin an overhaul of airport safety regulations.

In an address today to the British Parliament, the U.K. Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, said the new security directives at British airports would be made effective within three weeks.

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He said all British airports must now possess explosion trace detection equipment, and that the British Airports Authority was already in the process of training its staff to catch any signs of suspicious or unusual behavior in passengers that would require closer inspection.

"We will be considering all the issues involved, mindful of civil liberties concerns, aware that identity-based profiling has its limitations," Johnson said, "but conscious of our overriding obligations to protect people's life and liberty."

Much has been made of the issue of profiling minors under the age of eighteen and safeguarding any images captured of them. Britain's child pornography laws currently prevent young people from being searched by body scanners. A scan could be a violation of laws that protect children from having indecent images taken of them.

"The government has a problem and so do the airports as the laws governing child protection are very tightly drawn," said Terri Dowty, Director of Action on Rights for Children. "The way the law stands at the moment, it is an offense for anyone to make an indecent image of a child and the legal advice is that any image that shows a child's genitals is highly likely to be indecent.

"We can't have people misapply this law for their own convenience," she said. "They would face prosecution, it's a fundamental principle. If it is inconvenient we have to go back to parliament."

Airport screeners who operate the high-tech scanners are being specially trained, and their vetting for the job includes a check of the British sex offenders' register.

British Airport Security Crackdown

The issue of civil liberties is one that the British Government will have to address carefully. The body scanners are being tried out at Manchester airport in the north of England.

When a passenger enters a body scanner, a radio wave is emitted that penetrates clothing and bounces off the body, creating an image of the person's naked body and any objects that are hidden in clothing.

Critics say the procedure amounts to a strip search.

As the passenger stands in the scanner, the naked image of the passenger is transmitted to a sole, remote operator who is stationed in another part of the airport and will not see the face of the person inside the scanning machine. The operator will then mark any objects present on the passenger and send a schematic diagram of the person's profile to the officers operating the scanner for further examination

"There are two options available if the passenger has to undergo a further search -- they will either go in the scanner machine or go undergo pat-down search if they refuse to go through the machine, which is what is open to everyone at the moment," John Greenway, Manchester Airport's press officer, told ABC News. "There will be no way to communicate between the remote officer and the machine operator, so tip-off of celebrities that come through will not be possible."

Human rights groups are questioning how the scanner will be used. It is not practical to give every passenger a full body-scan, which raises the issue of profiling.

"There are real concerns about profiling people based on race, religion, ethnicity, and it's potentially counterproductive and allows those who you wish to profile to change tactic," Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy at Liberty, an independent civil liberties group, told ABC News, "We all accept that there is a sensitivity surrounding this and that you can pick-up on a behavioral profile, but anything done based on stereotyping or racial profiling would be worrying".

British government officials say they are only doing "passenger profiling" -- a term which would rule out scanning of very young or older passengers. They say searches would not be done on the basis of race or ethnicity but would be based on behavioral profiles and suspicious conduct.

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