RACIAL OR RELIGIOUS GROUPS COULD BE PICKED OUT FOR HI-TECH AIRPORT CHECKS
Whitehall says passenger profiling ‘in the mix’
New body scanners would pose space problem
The government could allow hi-tech security searches at British airports that focus on people who fit a particular profile, prompting fears that particular racial and religious groups will face increased scrutiny, it emerged today .
A Whitehall source told the Guardian passenger profiling was “in the mix” of the review into airport security ordered this week by Gordon Brown after the failed attempt to blow up a transatlantic jet on Christmas Day.
The development came as airline industry chiefs warned it would be impossible to screen all travellers with a new generation of body scanners the government now wants introduced at airports.
Airport industry executives warn the scanners are currently too big, slow and expensive to make their widespread installation viable. Costing around £100,000 each, they take up much more space than the arch metal detectors currently in use and require longer to check every passenger.
Many in the industry have long called for the profiling of passengers to detect potential terrorists. But while it is claimed spotters would primarily be watching for suspicious behaviour, there are fears travellers will be selected for enhanced checks based on race, religion and ethnicity.
“They would be looking for people who are acting differently from regular passengers. However, it is going to appear to target a particular group of people because sadly it is that group of people that is presenting the problem at the moment,” said Norman Shanks, a former head of security at BAA, the UK’s largest airport operator.
The Airport Operators Association (AOA) and BAA, the UK’s largest airport operator, support passenger profiling.
“We would like to see a combination of technology, intelligence and passenger profiling,” a BAA spokesman said.
Shanks said a successful profiling system should train airline check-in staff and other people working at airports how to spot unusual behaviour.
The exact criteria used to produce a passenger profile is secret but could also include factors such as how a ticket was bought, whether the passenger had check-in luggage, as well as the person’s behaviour.
The director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, warned against an overreaction to the latest security alert. “We all take our security seriously but we need to learn the lessons of the recent past. Any response to terrorism has to be proportionate and respectful of the human rights values of dignity, privacy and liberty that governments on both sides of the Atlantic have been all too easily tempted to ignore.”
The Labour MP Khalid Mahmood said he would encourage the Muslim community to accept profiling. “I think people would rather be profiled than blown up. It wouldn’t be victimisation. I think people will understand that it is only through something like profiling that there will be some kind of safety,” he said.
“Certainly some people will be aggrieved but the fact is that the majority of people who carry out these terror attacks do happen to be Muslims.”
As Brown announced a security summit would be held this month in London, it became clear ministers are ready to authorise the use of full body scanners whatever the conclusion of a European review of such systems next week. The scanners, which can see under people’s clothing, could have spotted explosives strapped to the body of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab when he boarded a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.
Officials at the Department for Transport had said the EU ruling on whether the scanners violated people’s privacy was necessary before they could be used in Britain but now sources have said the government inquiry – due to wind up in the next few days – is likely to give the go-ahead for the scanners “with or without European cooperation”.
But concerns remain about the cost and practicality of introducing them. “It is all right if you are planning a new terminal but you cannot change the design of an airport [to fit them in]. UK airports are already full to capacity to accommodate passengers at peak times of the year,” said Ed Anderson, AOA executive chairman.
Senior BAA staff are understood to have reservations about the readiness of full body scanning technology.
Brown said today the security summit would discuss methods of countering radicalisation in Yemen. It will be held on 28 January alongside the conference on the future of Afghanistan. Abdulmutallab is believed to have developed radical Islamist views during visits to Yemen.