X-ray body scanners at airports - my rights?

Donna Moore made this Freedom of Information request to Department for Transport

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was successful.

Dear Department for Transport,

Can you please let me know whether it is legal for me to refuse a x-ray body scan at Gatwick airport, and instead request a 'hand search' for myself and my two children (aged 6 and 11) so that we can still travel to our destination.

Yours faithfully,

Donna Moore

FOI-ADVICE-TEAM-DFT, Department for Transport

Dear Madam

I am writing to acknowledge receipt of your request for information about x-ray scanners, which has been allocated the reference number F0006629. A response will be issued to you in due course.


Department for Transport
Information Rights Unit
D/04, Ashdown House
Sedlescombe Road North
St Leonards on Sea
East Sussex
TN37 7GA

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Steven May, Department for Transport

Donna Moore


Dear Madam

Thank you for your request for information about security scanners and the position as regards refusing to be scanned.

If selected to undergo a security scan a person may decline to do so.

However, the Government requires airports, in exercise of powers conferred under the Aviation Security Act 1982, to ensure that any passenger who refuses to be scanned is not allowed to proceed past the security area and, thus, will not be able to travel on that occasion.

It may be helpful to explain some background on the use of security scanners.

There are a number of security screening methods in place at UK airports and security scanners are an additional layer of security that will help airport security staff to detect a variety of items that could potentially be used to launch a terrorist attack on an aircraft. Security scanners produce, on a remote screen, a grey image of the human body and any objects concealed on it.

Security scanners deployed by airports in the UK use either active millimetre wave technology, or very low dose x-ray technology. There have been a number of studies in Europe and the USA, including one by the UK Health Protection Agency. The assessments conclude that the x-ray dose received from being scanned is well within the levels allowed in the UK, including for pregnant women and children. The dose does not constitute any unacceptable risks to health and is equivalent to the radiation an individual would receive from just two minutes flying time at high altitude. Active millimetre wave scanners use radio waves at power levels very many times lower than that of mobile phones.

The Government requires airports to select passengers for scanning on a random basis, or if they cause other detection equipment to alarm, such as the walk-through metal detector. Random selection must not be linked to factors such as: race, ethnic origin, gender or age.

Passengers selected to be scanned may request that the remote screen reader is of the same sex as them. In addition:

§ images are viewed remotely from the scanner, and are deleted immediately after analysis. I mages cannot be stored, shared or recovered from the machines. Staff must divest any recording devices e.g. mobile phones, on entry to the image viewing room and are searched to ensure that this is complied with.

§ images do not show any distinguishing features that will enable identification of passengers being scanned; they simply allow the detection of concealed threat items;

§ the passenger being scanned will not be seen by the person that is viewing the scanned image;

An interim code of practice has been produced for the deployment of security scanners. It forms part of the Direction to airport operators who are obliged by law to adhere to it. Department for Transport inspectors conduct regular audits of all security processes and will enforce compliance with the code of practice. The interim code of practice is available via the DfT website at: www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/security/aviation/air...

The Department has also launched a full public consultation to gather views on what should be included in a final code of practice to be published later this year. The consultation closed on 19 July and all representations are being carefully considered.

If you are unhappy with the way the Department has handled your request or with the decisions made in relation to your request you may complain within two calendar months of the date of this letter by writing to the Department's Information Rights Unit at:

Zone D/04
Ashdown House
Sedlescombe Road North
East Sussex TN37 7GA
E-mail: [email address]

Please see attached details of DfT's complaints procedure and your right to complain to the Information Commissioner.

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

Your right to complain to DfT and the Information Commissioner

You have the right to complain within two calendar months of the date of this letter about the way in which your request for information was handled and/or about the decision not to disclose all or part of the information requested. In addition a complaint can be made that DfT has not complied with its FOI publication scheme.

Your complaint will be acknowledged and you will be advised of a target date by which to expect a response. Initially your complaint will be re-considered by the official who dealt with your request for information. If, after careful consideration, that official decides that his/her decision was correct, your complaint will automatically be referred to a senior independent official who will conduct a further review. You will be advised of the outcome of your complaint and if a decision is taken to disclose information originally withheld this will be done as soon as possible.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:

Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane

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tony left an annotation ()

A well rehearsed reply, which did not answer Donna Moores question. Tony

Graham George left an annotation ()

Well rehearsed or not, it is a good reply.
To be fair, I do feel the body canners are required.

Hutchinson R left an annotation ()

Anyone who is selected to undergo these scanner should first be fitted with the tags to show how much radiation they have been exposed to. Why is it that this is common practice within the medical industry and not the Department for Transport. If they believe that these machines are completely harmless why hasn't the government conducted a trial to show the dosages being received by the members of the public and the operating member of staff. All/ any dose of radiation should be recorded on a member of the publics travel documents and entered onto their medical notes. Also the member of public should be given a leaflet explaining the procedure and the risks involved with the necessary links to the peer reviewed data supporting or against their use.

G Hutchinson

EdB left an annotation ()

I believe that the above information may be incorrect. Under European Union Law any state using Xray scanners at airports must allow passengers to opt out of the scan and still be allowed to travel so long as they accept another form of search, as a minimum a hand search. See this link:


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