Scanners at airports to reveal all

A passenger being scanned by a body scanner during a trial at Sydney's international airport last year.
A passenger being scanned by a body scanner during a trial at Sydney's international airport last year. Photo: Department of Infrastructure and Transport

CONTROVERSIAL full-body scanners due to be introduced into Australian airports next month will identify prosthesis wearers, including breast cancer survivors and transgender passengers.

Earlier this year the federal government announced the new scanners, to be installed in eight international terminals, would be set to show only a generic stick-figure image to protect passengers' privacy.

But documents released under freedom of information show that, in meetings with stakeholders, Office of Transport Security representatives confirmed the machines would detect passengers wearing a prosthesis.

Breast Cancer Network Australia said it had alerted its 70,000 members that prosthesis wearers should carry a doctor's letter and speak to security staff before passing through the body scanner to ensure discreet treatment. While breast implants would not be detected, prosthetic breasts used by those who have had a mastectomy will be.

In meetings with stakeholders, transport security officials confirmed the situation would also apply to transgender passengers.

Last week a spokesman for the Infrastructure Department said there were ''procedures currently in place for the appropriate clearing of medical devices and aids and these will continue largely unchanged''.

Stakeholders, including Muslims and civil libertarians, were consulted by the Office of Transport Security and raised numerous concerns.

Among the concerns was the potential for graphic images of naked passengers to be stored and the fact certain religions decreed that only a spouse was entitled to view their partner's body from the navel to the knee area.

The policy to use generic stick-figure images was introduced to placate these privacy concerns.

Internal documents also revealed a proposed privacy quality assurance program to check privacy issues was scrapped late last year.

The decision was revealed in correspondence between the OTS executive director, Paul Retter, and the Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan last November.

A Transport Department spokesman said that because the department had determined no personal information would be collected, stored or disclosed during the body-scanning process, the National Privacy Principles did not apply and both parties agreed to remove the item from the work plan.

The introduction of the scanners is a response to the failed 2009 Christmas Day underwear bombing attack on a US airline involving a passenger trying to detonate chemicals hidden in his underwear and in a syringe.

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