Lonely Planet Writer

The infamous naked scan


This week there’s been much comment in UK media on trials at Manchester Airport of a new type of x-ray security scanner. The good news: it does away with the need for fumbling around to remove coins from your pockets, and you no longer have to remove shoes and belts. As an additional bonus, there’s no stick-em-up style body search either. You just stand still for a few seconds with your hands on your head while you’re scanned.

The (possibly) bad news is that it generates a clothes-free image of anyone who stands in it, which is scanned by security staff sitting in a remote location. In addition to the prohibited items they’re designed to display, they also show up breast enlargements, piercings and hip replacements. And, if the picture below is anything to go on, outlines of bits and bobs that you wouldn’t normally have out on display in an airport. This imaging technology is being offered as a trial, and is also being rolled out on an experimental (and again, optional) basis by selected US Airports over the next year.

I travelled through Manchester Airport last week and got a preview of the technology. It’s hard to see much wrong with it. You stand in an open-sided metal box with your hands on your head and, if you’re in the clear, off you go. I was also shown the small room where a guard, without access to any camera or other device to record the image, analyses the pictures for anything suspicious. They can’t see anyone going in or out of the scanner. There is no perv factor.

Here then lies the dilemma. Anyone who’s travelled through an airport over the past few years knows how badly the existing system’s failings can be exposed, especially at peak times. But technology sometimes comes at a price and, to some, this may be a step too far. However, anything that gets me through security quicker, allowing more time for browsing geektastic aeroplane magazines and trying on duty-free sunglasses is a good thing. But what about you – would you go for the nudey scan or a rub-down from a security dude?