The Hyderabad airport had conducted a survey asking people to fill up a form where people were asked if they were willing to undergo a check through a body scanner and, if not, their reasons. The whole idea behind the survey was that there is a stigma attached to it—especially for women passengers. People feel that a body scan will infringe on their privacy.
Now, why do you need a body scan as opposed to the present system? What authorities do right now is to frisk passengers. In 99.9% of the cases, we have not had any problems across the country with the current method.
However, in just about 0.1% of the cases, people have managed to outsmart the system.
There have been cases where two girls had gone to Saudi Arabia with an Indian passport. When they were put through a body scanner there, it was found that they had concealed another passport—which turned out to be a Bangladeshi passport—in their shoes. So they were actually trying to subvert the system. In such cases, it’s very difficult to catch people through the regular method of frisking.
As for social stigma, there is a common belief among people that a body scanner will invade their physical privacy. But that is not the case. Body scanners—unlike what people believe—are non-intrusive in nature and detect objects only on a person’s body for security screening purposes.
People are neither required to physically remove clothes nor make any physical contact with the security personnel. This system is an absolute necessity in our country. This will just ensure more comfort, especially for women.
Like the present system, what instead can be recommended is a system where only women screen women and men screen the male travellers. That way, you end up ensuring that there is a level of privacy which is maintained.
Because, even then, the technology of a body scanner only shows a skeletal image of a person along with any other suspicious items the passenger may have concealed either in their body cavity or within their clothing.
There are cases where people try and carry currency on themselves and that is something which a regular metal detector will not be able to find, whereas in a body scanner it doesn’t escape scrutiny.
The body scanner system was introduced after the September 2001 attacks in the US. There were concerns even in the US that the radiation from body scanners was cancer-causing. But this system has been developed only after extensive testing, and it was only after getting approval that it was introduced.
If we look at body scanners in terms of safety, they are foolproof and ensure complete safety as far as aircraft are concerned.
But while we can take several steps to ensure that a person’s privacy is not infringed upon or they don’t feel exposed, it will be mandatory for a person to go through that check—sooner rather than later.
A. Sudhakar Reddy is founder and national president, Air Passengers Association of India (APAI).
(As told to Shaswati Das)