Dubai says no to full-body scanners

Full-body security scanners will not be used in Dubai airports because of concerns over privacy and ethics.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 7:  People wait in line at the passport control area in Terminal 1 arrivals section at the Dubai International airport in Dubai on July 7, 2009.  (Randi Sokoloff / The National)  For stock *** Local Caption ***  RS041-070709-DXB-STOCK.jpg
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DUBAI // Full-body security scanners will not be used in Dubai airports, it was announced yesterday. The decision was made because the devices do not correspond with national customs and ethics, said Brig Ahmed bin Thani, the Dubai Police's director of airport security. "I do not feel that it is necessary for us to implement such a technology while we are operating different methods and have different avenues that have worked so far," he said.

"The use of such a device violates personal privacy and it raises a very sensitive issue for passengers, in addition to the fact that it does not complement our national ethics." The devices, also known as millimetre wave scanners, or backscatter X-rays depending on which technology they use, have raised privacy concerns because they allow authorities to see underneath clothing to the surface of the skin, although special software normally masks some parts of the body.

The scanners could also affect human DNA by interfering with processes such as DNA replication, a study for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US has shown. The rejection by Dubai is at odds with an announcement by federal authorities at a regional aviation security conference last month that they intended to introduce body-imaging machines at airports. Federal officials are reviewing the technology because of the radiation concerns, said Saif al Suwaidi, the director general of the General Civil Aviation Authority.

"We don't have full information on the side effects of using this kind of equipment on frequent flyers," he said. The screening devices have already been deployed in the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Italy, among other countries. Around 1,000 full-body scanners are due to be operational in US airports by the end of next year. Some countries, such as the Netherlands and the UK, are attempting to further address privacy concerns by digitally blurring the images of passengers' faces.

Other countries store passengers' images for only 24 hours before deleting them. Brig bin Thani said security measures in place in Dubai were sufficient to keep millions of travellers safe. He noted the scanning technology is not required by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). "The acquisition of such devices is based on the decision of every member state of the ICAO and is not a mandatory measure instructed by them," he said. "The majority of crimes that we deal with involve forged passports originating from East Asian countries." Some 3,700 people have been trained to deal with security threats and public order at the Dubai airports, Brig bin Thani said. Dubai International Airport is also looking into the possibility of introducing face-recognition technology to enhance safety, said Brig Omar al Amri, the deputy director of airport security. The system has been tested but has yet to be fully implemented. "For the technology to be introduced only a software upgrade is required," said Brig bin Thani. "We are currently testing it and reviewing its potential uses." The airport has more than 3,200 operational security cameras in its three terminals. Dubai's airports are expected to process 46 million passengers this year, compared with 40 million last year, after the opening of Al Maktoum International Airport in Jebel Ali last month. Security personnel have been kept busy, dealing with 732 criminal cases thus far this year, compared to 1,382 in all of last year. Officials have developed a new initiative to deal with the 15 to 20 illegals apprehended trying to enter the Emirates through Dubai airports each day.