Commission issues warning over counter-terrorism measures

Commission issues warning over counter-terrorism measures

16 February 2010

The Commission has warned Government today that it needs to take immediate action to bring its policy for body scanning passengers at UK airports within the law.

In a letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, and detailed legal arguments sent to officials working on the implementation of body scanners, the Commission recognises that the threat posed by terrorist activities means the Government needs to take steps to protect the travelling public.

The Commission has expressed concerns about the apparent absence of safeguards to ensure the body scanners are operated in a lawful, fair and non-discriminatory manner. It also has serious doubts that the decision to roll this out in all UK airports complies with the law.

The Commission argues that the current use of body scanners, already in place at Heathrow and Manchester airports, may be breaking discrimination law as well as breaching passengers’ right to privacy. It calls on the Secretary of State to ensure that these concerns are addressed. 

The Home Secretary has indicated in the House of Commons that people will be selected on a random basis, but this has not been publicly endorsed by the Transport Secretary. The lack of transparency about how people will be chosen for body scanning means that it would be impossible for passengers to challenge why they’ve been selected.

The Commission considers that greater openness on the part of Government is vital to demonstrate fully how it is intending to comply with the law, specifically within the framework of its equalities and human rights duties, and ensure appropriate accountability and transparency in the roll-out of the use of body scanners to UK airports.

An absence of safeguards, such as monitoring who is being scanned and how those scans are carried out, means that authorities are unable to check if in practice people are being unfairly selected on the basis of their race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability or transgender status.

The letter says that breaching people’s right to privacy can be justifiable under human rights legislation, if it is for national security, but the Commission argues that the Government has failed to demonstrate that this policy is currently justifiable within the law.

Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission said:

'The right to life is the ultimate human right and we support the government’s review of security policies.

'State action like border checks, stop and search and full body scanning are undertaken for good reasons.  But without proper care such policies can end up being applied in ways which do discriminate against vulnerable groups or harm good community relations.

'National security policies are intended to protect our lives and our freedoms; but it would be the ultimate defeat if that protection destroyed our other liberties.'


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For more press information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

For general enquiries please contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610 / Scotland 0845 604 5510 / Wales 0845 604 8810

Notes to Editors

Copies of the letter and accompanying guidance are available from the Commission’s press office.

The Commission wrote to the Home Secretary Alan Johnson on 17 January 2010 regarding body scanners and passenger profile as anti-terrorism measures, details of which can be found here.

A Secretary of State, in the performance of his or her functions, isrequired to give “due regard” to both the elimination of unlawful discrimination and the promotion of equality of opportunity and good relations between members of different racial groups. Their decisions must comply with the general or specific equality duties under the Race Relations Act 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.  It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain.  It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.  The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act.  It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.