Human Rights Issues in Eurasia / Правовые Вопросы В Регионах Евразии

Security At Airports? Will Body Scanners Help? UN Special Rapporteur Says NO!

Posted by Info on 21/01/2010

...body scanners are ineffective. They are unlikely to detect 80 grams of PETN explosives hidden in the underware of a person. And once it is known that body scanners are in use, they are easy to avoid by hiding this type of explosives in a body cavity or in a commercial item in one’s hand luggage.

Further, as body scanners will slow down the security checks at airports, it is likely, although not unavoidable, that their use will result in a new wave of discriminatory profiling based directly or indirectly on nationality, ethnicity or religion.

There are better ways than body scanners and group-related profiling to improve security at airports and elsewhere. The technology already exists for detecting from distance most explosive substances, including PETN…Together with professional observation of behavioral patterns this provides a prospect of respecting privacy while at the same time doing a better job in preventing acts of terrorism.

PETN – hard to detect and just 100g can destroy a carThe explosive is extremely powerful, allowing terrorists to use only small quantities to cause enormous damage. And the colourless crystals of the substance, PETN or pentaerythritol trinitrate, are hard to detect if carried in a sealed container…..


2 Responses to “Security At Airports? Will Body Scanners Help? UN Special Rapporteur Says NO!”

  1. Profiling has failed us; we don’t need profiling to identify Individuals like the Christmas-Day Bomber or the Fort Hood Shooter! There is a better solution!

    Virtually all media outlets are discussing whether we should be profiling all Arab Muslims; I will in the one-page explain why we don’t need profiling. Over 15 years ago, we at the Center for Aggression Management developed an easily-applied, measurable and culturally-neutral body language and behavior indicators exhibited by people who intend to perpetrate a terrorist act. This unique methodology utilizes proven research from the fields of psychology, medicine and law enforcement which, when joined together, identify clear, easily-used physiologically-based characteristics of individuals who are about to engage in terrorist activities in time to prevent their Moment of Commitment.

    The Problem
    Since the foiled terrorist attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian national on Northwest Flight 253 to Detroit, the President has repeatedly stated that there has been a systemic failure as he reiterates his commitment to fill this gap in our security. This incident, like the Fort Hood shooting, exemplifies why our government must apply every valid preventative approach to identify a potential terrorist.

    The myriad methods to identify a terrorist, whether “no-fly list,” “explosive and weapons detection,” mental illness based approaches, “profiling” or “deception detection” – all continue to fail us. Furthermore, the development of deception detection training at Boston Logan Airport demonstrated that the Israeli methods of interrogation will not work in the United States.

    All media outlets are discussing the need for profiling of Muslim Arabs, but profiling does not work for the following three reasons:

    1. In practice, ethnic profiling tells us that within a certain group of people there is a higher probability for a terrorist; it does not tell us who the next terrorist is!

    2. Ethnic profiling is contrary to the value our society places on diversity and freedom from discrimination based on racial, ethnic, religious, age and/or gender based criteria. If we use profiling it will diminish our position among the majority of affected citizens who support us as a beacon of freedom and liberty.

    3. By narrowing our field of vision, profiling can lead to the consequence of letting terrorists go undetected, because the terrorist may not be part of any known “profile worthy” group – e.g., the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh

    The Solution
    Our unique methodology for screening passengers can easily discern (independently of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, age, and gender) the defining characteristics of human beings who are about to engage in terrorist acts.

    The question is when will our government use true “hostile intent” through the “continuum of aggressive behavior” to identify potential terrorists? Only when observers focus specifically on “aggressive behavior” do the objective and culturally neutral signs of “aggression” clearly stand out, providing the opportunity to prevent these violent encounters. This method will not only make all citizens safer, but will also pass the inevitable test of legal defensibility given probable action by the ACLU.

    As our Government analyzes what went wrong regarding Abdulmatallab’s entrance into the United States, you can be assured that Al Qaeda is also analyzing how their plans went wrong. Who do you think will figure it out first . . . ?

    Visit our blog at where we discuss the shooting at Fort Hood and the attempted terrorist act on Flight 253.

    • Martin Scheinin said

      Moving from stereoptypical group-based profiling to behavioral profiles that detect aggression is certainly one promising line of improving security without ending up in violations of the right to privacy and of non-discrimination. Of course any chosen method must have proper scientific basis, so that it can be proven to be effective. Otherwise there is no justification for the level of intrusion that behavioral observation represents.

      It may also be that we will move to evidence-based combinations of different methods, including observation of individual behavior, use of intelligence information and a range of detection technologies. This may help in excluding the most intrusive methods under any one of these, such as the current generation of body scanners that unnecessarily show the naked image of an identifiable person to one ore more observers and in the worst case store such images.

      Any comparison of security measures should take into account their impact on privacy and other human rights, as well as their counterproductive effects. Ethnic profiling results in the alienation of targeted communities. At the same time it defeats its own purpose by allowing the terrorists to react by choosing agents who will escape the profile. Similarly, full-body scanners cause the real terrorists to adjust their tactics, as they are known not to detect substances hidden inside the body.

      Much more should be done in the field of developing technologies for the direct detection of explosive materials themselves. In combination with observation of aggressive behavior this may represent the future of security measures at airports and elsewhere.

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