Germany decides against use of full body scanners

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Germany has decided not to employ body scanners for passenger security checks after a 10-month trial at Hamburg Airport.

The interior ministry in Berlin stated that "the technology is not mature enough for the available equipment to be used in practice" and that it will therefore not be installed at the county's airports "for the time being".

While the authority is, in principle, in favour of using body scanners to "improve efficiency and effectiveness of air transport security checks", it said that the testing resulted in "too many" false alarms.

According to a spokesman for Germany's federal police, which is responsible for passenger security checks at the country's airports, the false alarm quota was "significantly higher than 50%".

These alerts were usually triggered by travellers' clothing, for example creases in the fabric, but also sweating in areas such as armpits.

The challenge is to develop software that will strike the necessary balance between sufficient sensitivity to detect suspect substances and not being too personally intrusive. The federal police said the equipment uses software that does not reveal bodily features of the monitored person.

Another objective is to use technology which poses no health threat to travellers. Germany decided against using X-ray backscatter screening machines. Instead, the tested systems are based on millimetre wave technology.

Two body scanners were tested at Hamburg Airport from late September 2010 until July 2011. Around 809,000 passengers passed through them on a voluntary basis.

The trial was originally scheduled to end after six months, in March. The ministry then revealed, however, that new software was to be installed to improve passenger throughput and reduce the number of false alarms. The test was extended by another four months. A total of 480,000 passengers had used the scanners during the first six months.

The interior ministry said that it surveyed consumer acceptance for the body scanners and that 90% of questioned travellers were in favour of the measure to improve security.

However, given that Hamburg Airport registered nearly 13 million passengers last year, this suggests that only around 7.5% of all passengers were willing to use it.