Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Privacy watchdog gives go ahead for see-through scanners

Airport scanners that see through the clothes of travellers have received the blessing of Canada's privacy czar.

Chantal Bernier, the assistant federal privacy commissioner, said Friday the national air security agency has successfully answered her office's questions about the project.

The system, tested in British Columbia at the Kelowna airport, allows a screening officer to see whether someone is carrying plastic explosives or other dangerous items.

Story continues below advertisement

The proposal has stirred controversy because the scanner produces a three-dimensional outline of a person's naked body.

"It is a very touchy issue, and we have addressed it with exactly that level of care," Ms. Bernier told a gathering of security officials and academics.

Under the plan approved by the privacy chief, the officer would view the image in a separate room and never see the actual traveller.

Only people singled out for extra screening would be scanned, and they would have the option of getting a physical pat-down instead.

Ms. Bernier said the holographic image generated by the scanner makes it difficult to identify the traveler's face.

"You would not know who it is, even if you knew the person was in line," she said at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies. "We've actually tested it.

"In addition, the image would be deleted the moment the person leaves the screening portal.

Story continues below advertisement

"In our view, these privacy safeguards meet the test for the proper reconciliation of public safety and privacy," Ms. Bernier said.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority has done thorough threat assessments that reveal a need to search passengers for weapons that might elude a conventional metal detector, she said.

Giving a traveller who undergoes secondary screening the choice of either a full-body scan or a pat-down reduces the "sense of invasion" posed by the new tool, Ms. Bernier added.

In a preliminary assessment early last year, the air-security authority said the scanner project amounted to a "low privacy risk" due to the built-in safeguards.

The scanners are already in use at airports in cities including Amsterdam, Moscow and Phoenix. They are also found in the high-security "green zone" of Baghdad and at some U.S. courthouses and prisons.

The air-security authority says the low-level radio frequency wave emitted by the body scanner meets Canadian health-and-safety standards.

Story continues below advertisement

Data from the Kelowna pilot project will help the security authority determine which Canadian airports would most benefit from scanners.

Transport Canada would then decide whether to approve use of the devices across the country.



Report an error Licensing Options
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Globe Newsletters

Get a summary of news of the day

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.