European Scrutiny Committee Contents

48 Aviation security



COM(10) 311

Commission Communication on the use of security scanners at EU airports

Legal base
Document originated15 June 2010
Deposited in Parliament23 June 2010
Basis of considerationEM of 8 July 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone
Discussion in Council24 June 2010
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


48.1 Regulation (EC) No 820/2008 lays down measures for the implementation of common EU basic standards in aviation security. The main principle behind these standards is to screen passengers and cargo in order to keep threatening articles such as knives or explosives ("prohibited articles") away from aircraft. For this Member States and/or airports are given a list of approved screening methods from which they must provide an effective screening process. Current prescribed screening methods include hand searches and archway metal detectors. Further detail of the EU legal framework for aviation security is set out in the so-called implementing package, comprising Regulation (EU) No 185/2010 and further implementing acts.

48.2 This legislation has direct effect in the UK and airports are not generally permitted to substitute alternative primary screening methods, such as security scanners. Only a new Decision of the Commission supported by Member States and the European Parliament could be a basis for the general addition of security scanners as an option for aviation security screening. However, Member States can be permitted to introduce security scanners for airport trials (as currently at Manchester airport) or as a "more stringent measure" (as currently at Heathrow and Gatwick airports). Security scanners can be used as a secondary screening method, but UK experience has found that this can be cumbersome and inefficient.

48.3 All EU legislation must comply with fundamental rights protected by European law (as well as with EU health standards). Protected rights under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights include rights relating to human dignity, privacy, personal data, human health and non-discrimination. Respecting such rights does not in principle prevent the adoption of measures restricting them. However any limitation must be provided for by law and must be justified, necessary and proportionate.

The document

48.4 Following the Detroit incident on Christmas Day 2009,[190] and in response to a European Parliament resolution of 23 October 2008,[191] the Commission presents this Communication to set out its current thinking on security scanners for aviation security. The Commission provides a factual basis for discussing the key issues associated with the possible introduction of security scanners as a measure for screening passengers at EU airports and the purpose of its Communication is to explore whether the current EU legislative package should be amended to allow security scanners as a generally applicable alternative screening method. It summarises the present position, sets out the issues, for example privacy and health concerns, and explains the possible legislative options.

48.5 The Commission:

  • concludes that common EU standards for security scanners can ensure the equal protection of fundamental rights and health through technical standards and operational conditions;
  • reports that tests have shown that security scanners can improve the quality of security controls at airports over and above current methods;
  • suggests that alternatives to ionising radiation type scanners should be available for vulnerable groups and that passengers should receive clear and comprehensive information on scanners at the airport;
  • takes note of ongoing discussions on allowing persons to opt-out of being scanned and notes that this would bring in issues such as security, cost, feasibility and could undermine the usefulness of scanners; and
  • concludes that the Commission will decide whether or not to propose an EU legal framework for the use of scanners at EU airports in the light of discussions with the European Parliament and the Council, with any legislative proposal being accompanied by an impact assessment.

48.6 The Communication was presented and briefly discussed at the Transport Council on 24 June 2010. The Commission indicated that a legislative proposal allowing scanners to be used as a primary measure for screening passengers may be forthcoming by the end of 2010.

The Government's view

48.7 The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers) tells us that safety of the travelling public is the Government's highest priority. She comments further that:

  • the Government considers that the use of security scanners is a proportionate response to a very real terrorist threat;
  • precise deployment of scanners will need to take into account responses to the Government's current consultation on an interim Code of Practice on the use of advanced imaging technology (security scanners) in aviation security;[192]
  • the Government welcomes the Commission's Communication given the continuing threat to civil aviation from terrorism; and
  • it believes that security scanners can play a key part in both protecting the travelling public and improving passenger facilitation.

48.8 The Minister continues that the Government believes that points the legislation to be proposed by the Commission should take into account are:

  • the decision on whether to deploy security scanners should be for individual Member States;
  • there should be no specific additional restrictions at the EU level on the use of scanners which involve ionising radiation — the existing provisions in Directive 96/29/Euratom, requiring Member States to conduct an in-depth risk assessment, are sufficient to ensure public protection;
  • the Government's advice is that the health risk from such scanners is too small to be quantified;
  • as noted in the Communication, this is also the conclusion of a French Government report;
  • the Government respects, however, the fact that some Member States have national legislation governing exposure to ionising radiation and so deployment of security scanners in those countries would need to take that into account;
  • Member States should be required to produce and publish codes of practice which set out how passengers' privacy and data protection rights will be protected under applicable EU and national law;
  • such a code should include, amongst other things, details about how the scanning process will be conducted and the safeguards in place to ensure that images will not be stored or connected with passengers' personal details in any way — the interim code of practice already in place in the UK is an example of how this could be done;
  • there should be common EU technical standards for security scanners, to ensure that any scanners deployed meet minimum levels of detection capability — work to develop such standards at the EU level is already well advanced; and
  • consideration should be given to common EU training standards for scanner operators.


48.9 The Commission has yet to decide whether to present a legislative proposal on the use of security scanners at airports. However, whilst clearing this present document, we draw it to the attention of the House as a possible precursor of legislation which will need to be examined carefully for balance between security needs and fundamental rights.

190   When a man attempted to ignite an explosive device on a plane as it neared Detroit from Amsterdam. Back

191   See  Back

192   See  Back

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