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EU aviation security and passenger screening technologies – frequently asked questions

Commission Européenne - MEMO/10/34   10/02/2010

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MEMO/10/34

Brussels, 10 February 2010

EU aviation security and passenger screening technologies – frequently asked questions

1. What are the current EU rules on aviation security?

Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the EU established a common aviation security regime (Regulation 2320/2002).

Every passenger, every piece of luggage and cargo departing from an EU airport or coming from a third country and transferring through an EU airport must be screened or otherwise controlled in order to ensure that no prohibited article (arms, knives, solid or liquid explosives, etc.) is brought into security restricted areas of airports and/or on board aircraft.

The current legislation lists a number of methods which can be used for passenger screening – covered by EU standards and safeguards – for example, hand search, walk through metal detection, hand held metal detection, explosive trace detection.

Other key elements of the legislation are:

  • Commission powers to inspect EU airports and Member State appropriate authorities (most often the national civil aviation authorities, but sometimes the interior or justice administrations) to ensure that the rules are being applied in practice;

  • The obligation that all Member States perform compliance inspections of their own airports and operators on a regular basis;

  • The possibility for Member States to implement more stringent security measures.

This regime has enabled 'one-stop security' within the European Union: passengers (and baggage and cargo) arriving from an EU airport do not need to be re-screened when transferring at another EU airport. All Member States, except the UK, apply this concept which is an important element of passenger facilitation.

Regulation 2320/2002 will be fully updated by a new framework Regulation 300/2008 as of 29 April 2010 which responds to the need for more flexibility in adopting security measures and procedures in order to respond to new and evolving threats and to allow new security methods and technologies to be introduced.

At the international level, the Convention on International Civil Aviation under its Annex 17 on security establishes rules for aviation security on the basis of standards and recommended practices.

2. What is the problem? Why is there a need for a discussion on body scanning technology now?

The attempted terrorist attack on Northwest Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on 25 December again confirmed the threat against civil aviation. Aviation remains a target for the terrorists. We cannot ignore this reality.

Since that failed attack, several EU Member States have started to use or have announced their intention to use body imaging technology in airports by exercising their right to apply security measures additional to those established by EU law.

Why? Because, metal detectors and manual searches have limitations in terms of detection capability, in particular as concerns liquid and solid explosives.

3. What exactly is body screening technology, body imaging technology or so-called "body scanners"?

In general, body imaging technology or "body scanners" are able to detect plastic and chemical explosives (solid, powder and liquid) and non-metallic threats in pockets or attached to a person's body. They cannot detect items inside the body.

The term body scanner is used generically to cover all these various technologies:

  • active millimetre wave using radio waves, with less energy than a mobile phone;

  • backscatter, using low-energy x-rays;

  • passive millimetre wave, or terahertz, which lies between infrared light and microwaves on the electromagnetic spectrum, is expected to screen moving targets;

  • infrared (still to be further developed).

The screening procedure requires several seconds (3–30 seconds depending on the technology) allowing the machine to take the image. For a person to be screened by a body scanner, he must stand still for a few seconds either inside the body scanner (which is the size of a telephone booth) or directly in front of it.

4. What are the current rules covering body scanners?

The use of body scanners is not currently regulated at EU level. Body screening technology falls outside the scope of the EU common framework on aviation security. Member States can therefore decide to implement this technology in airports, either on a trial basis or as an additional security measure. In this case the Member State decides if and under what conditions to use body scanners.

Such an approach may jeopardize not only a common approach to fundamental rights but also to one-stop aviation security within the EU.

5. Why are body scanning technologies not covered by EU-wide regulation and safeguards?

In 2008, the Commission sought to include in the above list imaging technology as an eligible passenger screening method to be used at airports. However, following a resolution by the European Parliament on 23 October 2008 opposing this technology, the Commission had to agree to review the matter further, particularly in light of privacy, data protection and health-related issues.

The resolution asked the Commission to carry out an impact assessment relating to fundamental rights, to consult the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), the Article 29 Working Party 1 and the Fundamental Rights Agency, to carry out a scientific and medical assessment of the possible health impact of such technologies, and to carry out an economic, commercial and cost–benefit impact assessment.

6. The timetable: what happens next?

Vice-President Kallas will discuss airport security, including the use of passenger screening technology, with transport ministers at the informal ministerial at La Coruna on Feb 11 and 12.

At the request of the European Parliament, Vice-President Kallas will present an in-depth report covering security, health and privacy issues relating to body scanning technologies to the European Parliament in April this year. That report will form the basis for a discussion based on scientific evidence, and for a decision on how and if to move ahead with a common EU framework covering the use of body scanning technology.

1 :

The Working Party on the 'Protection of Individuals with regard to the Processing of Personal Data' set up by Article 29 of Directive 95/46/EC Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data


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