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UK rights commission says airport body scanners may be illegal

[JURIST] Controversial full-body scanners [CNN backgrounder] currently used in two UK airports may be illegal, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) [official website] announced [press release] Monday. The EHRC made the statement in a letter [text, PDF] to Department for Transport (DFT) [official website] Secretary Lord Andrew Adonis [official profile]. The commission's primary concerns relate to passengers' privacy and right to be free from discrimination:

We are yet to see sufficient evidence that this decision complies with the general or specific equality duties under the Race Relations Act [of] 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act [of] 1975 or the Disability Discrimination Act [of] 1995. These duties require a Secretary of State, in the performance of his or her functions, 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.

A DFT spokesperson said [Telegraph report] the office is committed to ensuring passenger safety through legal means and that an assessment of the practice is currently underway.

The UK scanners were introduced February 1 in the Heathrow and Manchester Airports. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official profile] announced [JURIST report] the move toward body scanner use in January. European Union officials said in January that body scanners would not be installed [JURIST report] until further inquiries into privacy issues were made. The body scanners were introduced in part as a response to the failed US bombing attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab [Telegraph profile; JURIST news archive] on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.

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