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Use of security scanners at EU airports

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Use of security scanners at EU airports

The use of security scanners at European Union (EU) airports is currently regulated at a national level. This communication examines a harmonised approach to the use of security scanners and discusses the key issues and concerns associated with their introduction as a measure for screening persons at EU airports. Differing standards within the EU risks fragmenting the fundamental rights of EU citizens, impeding their rights of free movement and escalating their health concerns related to new security technologies.


Commission Communication to the European Parliament and the Council of 15 June 2010 on the Use of Security Scanners at EU airports [COM(2010) 311 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


The aim of European Union (EU) policy on aviation security is to protect persons and goods from acts of unlawful interference to civil aviation. Following the attacks of 11 September 2001 the EU established a common aviation security framework. One of its key elements is that every passenger and every piece of luggage or cargo departing from an EU airport must be screened or otherwise controlled in order to ensure that no prohibited article is being brought into security restricted areas of airports and on board aircraft. Over the past years civil aviation has been facing new types of threats, as shown more recently by the attempted terrorist attack of 25 December 2009 involving explosives concealed on a passenger on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, against which the traditional security technologies currently deployed at airports are not fully effective.

Concerns related to the use of security scanners

Over the past years, the concerns raised on the use of security scanners predominantly relate to the creation of body images and the use of X-ray (ionising) radiation. These concerns have initiated a fierce debate on the compliance of security scanners with EU fundamental rights and public health principles. Fundamental rights are primarily protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Any adoption of measures restricting these rights must be justified for reasons of general public interest (in this instance aviation security) and must respect the principles of necessity, legality and proportionality. In relation to the deployment of security scanners, concerns have been raised as regards the possible impact on human dignity, privacy and protection of personal data, religious beliefs and non-discrimination. With regards to health concerns, the EU legislation and the Euratom Treaty set principles and thresholds for radiation doses. In particular, the Euratom legislation requires legitimate justification for human exposure to X-ray radiation. Since the effects of X-ray radiation on health are well known, limited exposure of human beings to X-ray radiation for medical and non-medical use must be in compliance with EU legislation principles. Today security scanner technologies exist that neither produce full body images nor emit ionising radiation.

Currently, under the EU legal framework for aviation security, EU countries must choose from a given list which methods and technologies they use to screen persons. The existing legislation does not allow airports to systematically replace any of the recognised screening methods and technologies with security scanners. A decision from the Commission, supported by EU countries and the European Parliament, is needed to allow security scanners to be considered a method to screen persons for aviation security purposes. EU countries may, however, introduce security scanners for temporary airport trials or as a more stringent security measure than existing EU legislation requires. At the time of this communication, security scanners are known to have been tested in Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK.

Security scanners alone, like any other single security measure, cannot completely guarantee aviation security. Nevertheless, on-going tests have demonstrated that security scanners can improve the quality of security controls at EU airports. They could significantly increase the detection capacity of prohibited items such as liquid or plastic explosives which cannot be detected by walk-through metal detectors. Only a common EU approach to the use of security scanners would legally guarantee uniform application of security rules and standards in all EU airports. This is essential to ensure both the highest level of aviation security as well as the best possible protection of EU citizens' fundamental rights and health.


In 2008, the Commission proposed a draft regulation with basic screening requirements which provided a list of recognised screening methods and technologies, including security scanners. The European Parliament adopted a resolution on the impact of aviation security measures and body scanners on human rights, privacy, personal dignity and data protection, requesting a more in-depth assessment of the situation. The Commission agreed to review these matters further and withdrew security scanners from its original legislative proposal. The draft legislation became Commission Regulation (EC) No 272/2009.

The Commission will decide next steps to take, including whether or not to propose an EU legal framework on the use of security scanners at EU airports, following an impact assessment further analysing the possible impact of the deployment of security scanners on fundamental rights and health and in the light of the outcome of discussions with the European Parliament.

Last updated: 18.01.2011