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Biometrics and Body Scanner in Aviation Security Essay


In a contemporary world that is characterised by a very rapid development of globalisation, the mobility and communication of the population is very high. Many people tend to travel from one location to another, choosing airplanes as their preferred mode of transportation. Airplanes are one of the safest and fastest ways to travel; however, it takes a lot of hard work to eliminate versatile threats to security when it comes to air travel. Contemporary airports have relatively complex systems in place to help them to detect the many possible risks and address them in time. Some of the security and safety procedures in air travel involve screening of the cargo, the baggage passengers may take with them on an airplane or the travellers themselves.

There is a set of regulations that prohibits various objects from being brought aboard a plane; some items are limited to small volumes and quantities. These procedures are implemented in order to maximise the security and safety of air travel. However, as convenient as contemporary air travel may be, it still presents a set of challenges to the traveling individuals and the operators of aviation security. Often, clashes may happen that undermine either the convenience of air transportation or the security of this form of travel. This paper will discuss a series of such challenges and use examples of practices and events that may complicate the mission of the airport and airline operators to deliver a viable service with efficient security.

Aviation Security Overview

The European Commission (2016) has authorised a set of general regulations regarding the sphere of civil aviation; established in 2002, these rules have been commonly directed at the provision of aviation security and safety for the people and goods transported by means of airplanes from unlawful actions and dangerous practices. In particular, regulation number 300/2008, issued and approved by the European Parliament and Council, outlines a set of common standards and rules affecting the procedures involved in aviation security matters; to be more precise, the regulation was created to control and monitor established security programmes and practices. This new regulation was intended to replace an older law, number 2320/2002, and attempted to adjust the rules according to the rapidly changing environment in the industry, address newly introduced risks and provide opportunities for the employment of innovative methods and recent technologies (The European Commission 2016).

All in all, the major standards involved in the regulation cover such aspects of aviation security as the screening of baggage (hold and cabin), passenger checks and screening, surveillance and monitoring practices held within the boundaries of airports, searches of aircraft, as well as safety checks, screening of the mail and cargo transported by air, training of staff and checks of airport supplies and resources (The European Commission 2016). As for the European Union, the Commission obliges its member states to establish single authorities specifically focused on the development, quality control and implementation of the national security programmes for civil aviation. Moreover, these authorities are to be in charge of the work of security operators whose duties include defining and putting into practice security programmes for airports and air carriers (The European Commission 2016).

Also, when it comes to the aviation security in the United States, it has reported a maximised attention to safety programmes and practices since the events of 9/11 (The Department of Homeland Security 2015). In particular, the Department of Homeland Security (2015) of the United States mentions that safety procedures used to be much simpler and more general prior to the 9/11 tragedy. However, the modern security programmes in the country are very complex and multi-layered. To be more precise, today there are as many as four hundred and fifty airports in the United States that employ about fifty-one thousand people serving as Transportation Security Officers and Inspectors and Behaviour Detection Specialists (The Department of Homeland Security 2015). All baggage is now screened by Security Services for explosives as well as many other substances and objects that are prohibited from being taken on an airplane. Moreover, it is important to mention that the safety and security practices employed at the airports are constantly improved and enhanced to eliminate emerging risks and threats.

Aviation Security Programmes

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and Airports Council International (ACI) created a set of rules and guidance regarding the practices that are required at each airport in order to ensure the safeguarding of versatile procedures. Some of the most basic rules include the establishment of a body of authority at each airport individually that would be in charge of coordinating the airport’s safety and security measures and programmes, the creation of a security committee involved in the development and implementation of security practices and the organisation of safety procedures in strict coordination with the architectural structure of the facilities (ACI 2009). As emphasised by the Airports Council International (2009), it is critical to take into consideration all the aspects and potential problems concerning security while creating safety programmes and plans. In addition, the ACI and the ICAO pointed out that the participation of governments, airport structure designers, and security agencies needs to be collaborative and involve active communication for the programmes to work successfully.

The major objectives of the civil aviation security programmes are the elimination of threats of terroristic attacks and the maximisation of safety of the passengers on board the air carriers, as well as the baggage and cargo, the establishment of plans and facilities designed specifically for flights with high risk or passengers who represent an aviation threat and the provision of well-planned construction in order to ensure that the secondary damage in cases of risky situations is minimal (ACI 2009).

The programmes are to be individually designed and implemented for each airport separately. This is the case due to the high variety of types of facilities, their sizes, the kinds of flights they host, and the passengers typical for each particular area (ACI 2009). In other words, there is no common solution or universally suitable prorgamme that would be equally appropriate and effective for multiple airports.

Moreover, another critical policy maintained by the Airports Council International (2009) addresses the importance of regular quality control procedures and reviews of security operations. The security and safety practices are frequently tested, checked, renewed and changed. In fact, the changes often bring more diversification and complexity to the safety measures, due to the growing number of risks and their rapidly evolving nature. As mentioned earlier in this paper, the tragic and sudden events of 9/11 served as the ultimate driver for the re-evaluation and redesign of safety practices. In addition, the change occurred not only in the United States, the country directly affected by the events, but in the European Union as well. Ever since 2001, when the attacks took place, civil aviation security started to develop and become stricter by the year.

In turn, it is important to notice that due to the quickly developing complexity of the safety practices performed by the employees of the airports, a series of complications began to emerge caused by the invasive nature of these procedures. In fact, contemporary aviation security has to deal with a large variety of ethical and legal challenges. As a result, the overall provision of aviation security has taken on quite a paradoxical nature, where the safety measures threaten the constitutional freedoms and rights of the passengers, and elimination of these threats causes an increase in security risks. Accordingly, the security operators who are employed at the airports often have to face problems where the practices they carry out in order to ensure the passengers’ safety clash with the individuals’ freedoms, resulting in protests and situations that provoke conflict. In that way, the capacity of the security operators to deliver effective security measures becomes diminished. Furthermore, the technologies and procedures that are used for the provision of security at airports will be reviewed and discussed in relation to the ethical challenges they present for the members of the general public that, in turn, result in limitations concerning security measures and their efficiency.

Biometric Technology

Overview of the Method

Biometric technology refers to the strategies and techniques that allow the security professionals to identify persons based on their individual characteristics of physiological nature (Cehic & Quigley 2005). This technology is developing quickly, and new practices and methods are added all the time. In addition, those already existing are modified for the purposes of providing better precision and a higher level of convenience. At the same time, this developing technology is imperfect, in that it contains flaws and has a certain rate of errors. Regardless of the occasional technological difficulties and problems, biometric technology has been widely used as a method of identity recognition. Moreover, this technology is known to be very helpful, highly accurate and useful in the contemporary world where the theft of identity is a common crime (Alterman 2013). In fact, the rapidly growing rates of global terrorism and identity fraud serve as some of the major moving forces of the advancement of biometric technology (Arasly 2005). The problem is that public awareness and interaction with this technology has resulted in multiple concerns and protests due to ethical issues related to the application of biometric identity checks (Cehic & Quigley 2005).

All in all, the procedure of a biometric identity check involves three basic steps: the acquisition of biometric data (the collection of an image or a sound sample), the extraction of information from the collected biometric data and its templating and finally, matching the templated data with information from the database (Cehic & Quigley 2005). The physiological data of an individual may be collected by means of such techniques as voice recognition, face recognition, fingerprints, scanning of the iris and hand geometry templating (Cehic & Quigley 2005).

Apart from a high level of accuracy of the data collected and checked by biometric technologies, one of its major benefits is that it can be integrated or paired with a variety of other security methods and technologies (Cehic & Quigley 2005). These are especially applicable in densely populated countries where the airports are very busy. This type of technology allows fast and accurate data processing and identity confirmation.

Issues Concerning Biometric Technology

Biometric technology started to develop rapidly in the global arena after the events of 9/11. Gradually, the social awareness of this technology grew, along with its acceptance by the members of the general public. At the same time, the more methods and strategies of the collection of biometric data that appeared, the stronger the public protest of the technology became.

In the contemporary world, there are a variety of techniques that can be applied in order to collect data about unique physiological features of individuals. The recent surveys showed that there is a high level of general acceptance of biometric technology in the developed countries that widely use it in everyday life. For instance, in reference to fingerprinting, over 90% of American citizens agree that this method is legitimate and appropriate when used to control access to areas with high levels of security; however, about 30% of Americans consider the same method a redundancy when applied to personal financial operations (cashing checks, for example) (Cehic & Quigley 2005). In other words, it is possible to notice that contemporary society embraces only those biometric identification confirmation methods that are non-invasive and voluntary.

The type of technology that serves as a major source of concern are the biometric ID cards that would be mandatory for all citizens and allow opportunities for surveillance that are seen as the ultimate breach of privacy. In that way, the dilemma with biometric technology revolves around the fact that total surveillance and the enabling of governments and law enforcement agencies to access personal information of any citizen at any time could potentially help combat global terrorism, but also is likely to undermine the entire meaning of national security (CSES 2011).

Differently put, the maximisation of national security at the cost of total and ever-present surveillance that provides governments with unlimited access to private information of citizens is seen as an unworthy solution that exposes the population to more potential threats than might happen without it. Moreover, the addition of advanced biometric technologies to the airports would be likely to enable security operators to carry out their duties in a more effective manner; however, the possibility of the potential misuse of such technologies would definitely increase the concerns of the members of the general public and cause protests. As a result, the operators are limited in relation to the technologies that can be applied even though the available systems and devices could ensure a higher level of aviation security in terms of battling global terrorism and detecting potentially dangerous passengers and cargos.

Full Body Scanner

Technology Overview

One of the most recent – and the most controversial – aviation security technologies is the full body scanner. There exist two types of body scanners – millimeter wave and backscatter x-ray; both of these types of scanners work by means of creating radiation waves that penetrate clothing and thus allow the security operators running the scanners to see whether or not the scanned persons carry any prohibited objects (Mowery et al. 2014). In practical terms, the principle of the way these devices work is identical to that of the scanners used to scan baggage. The major difference is that the radiation waves they use are not as strong as the ones employed to examine the bags. The waves penetrate the persons’ clothing and reflect all the objects that may be hidden underneath by means of bouncing back from them and detecting the shapes of objects on the screen of a scanner where the image is projected (Mowery et al. 2014). These types of scanners are effective at detecting different kinds of objects and materials (not only metal, but ceramics, liquids, plastic and powders); in that way, they can be used to find disguised explosive devices, counterfeit goods, drugs and hidden weapons.

Issues Concerning Full Body Scanner

Discussing the advantages and disadvantages of full body scanners, it is critical to mention one important aspect of their operation. The scanners require human operators to review the scanned images and carry out the final decisions as to the presence of concealed forbidden objects on the travellers’ persons. Since the waves created by the scanners are intended to penetrate clothing, the scanned images the operators see on their screens are rather revealing (Saunders Thomas et al. 2013). Namely, the scanned individuals are seen on the screen without any clothes. This aspect serves as a major concern in reference to the full body scanners.

First, the argument against the scanners is based on the right to privacy that is protected by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and outlined in Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights; moreover, the right to privacy is also preserved in the UN Declaration of Human Rights (Privacy and Human Rights n.d.). These sets of regulations and rules maintain that the unreasonable searches of individuals by law enforcement and government representatives are not allowed. Full body scanning at airports is seen as a practice of strip-searching people without any particular reason or unlawful behavior on the part of the scanned persons.

Moreover, apart from the basic ethical concerns of people unwilling to be seen fully undressed by random strangers such as security officers, there are varied reasons for protests (Bello-Salau et al. 2012). For instance, the transgender community is one of the population groups to be still in the middle of unresolved social crises of acceptance of their identities; there can be potential risks of discrimination against such individuals when scanners are used (Mowery et al. 2014). In addition, people with artificial body parts are also faced with unpleasant experiences because once an artificial body part is revealed by the body scanner, an operator is obliged to examine it manually (Saunders Thomas et al. 2013). Another factor is a concern about the privacy of these images and how they are stored, handled and who might have access to them. Also, there is strong dissatisfaction on the part of parents concerning the scanning of their underage children. Finally, the use of full body scanners is seen as a breach of the cultural and religious norms of many different communities.

To sum up, full body scanners are definitely an extremely effective means of airport security; however, the technology is opposed by the members of the general public due to a wide variety of ethical problems and complaints (Gillen & Morrison 2015). At the same time, there is a well-known case that took place in the winter of 2009 when a passenger on Northwest Airlines, flying from Amsterdam to Detroit, made an attempt at an act of terrorism by trying to detonate an explosive device concealed in his underwear (Hoppe 2016). Fortunately, the device did not work properly and the attack was stopped in time. The failed attacker was not on a no-fly list and thus could pass through the security checkpoint as a regular passenger. However, a variety of security measures employed to check the passengers could not reveal the threat this individual presented. This case is used as evidence in favor of mandatory body scanning at the airports. On the other hand, it is still unknown whether a body scanner could have been effective in that particular situation.

Summary of Ethical Challenges’ Impact on Security Practices

All in all, the major ethical issue in regard to aviation security practices revolves around the question of whether highly intrusive security measures are going to produce a positive effect. Moreover, the size of the positive effect and the quality of benefits from these controversial practices needs to exceed the level of discomfort it creates for the average passenger. The most common point of view in society today sees security procedures such as biometric technology and full body scanners as an ultimate breach of their human rights, especially that right to privacy that is protected by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the United States Constitution, and the European Convention (Committee on Commercial Aviation Security 2006).

In the contemporary world, issues of personal privacy are just as serious and important as those of national security. When it comes to the delivery of effective aviation security procedures, the provision of the latter inevitably clashes with the former. As a result, the capacity of the security operators employed at airports to carry out all safety measures that are available today is limited due to the dissatisfaction on the part of the members of the general public. In particular, when the effects produced by intrusive security practices are evaluated by the passengers who experience them, it usually turns out that the risk of a terrorist attack is minor compared to the adverse ethical impact of the mandatory strip-searches, even if they are conducted in the form of full body scanning.


It is clear that the invasive aviation security procedures are going to continue to serve as major sources of social backlash. The ethical challenges presented by these practices and the reasons for social dissatisfaction are directly related to the very nature of these measures. Moreover, the number of population groups and communities outraged by full body scanners is large. In that way, it is possible to theorise that there is no current strategy of adjusting the technology according to the requirements and concerns of the general public.

However, the effectiveness of these controversial practices is obvious, has been tested multiple times and has proved rather significant. As a result, the security operators at airports are faced with a serious challenge, where they have to either focus on maximised security and prepare themselves to be attacked by the general public, or pay heed to the social protests and omit some of the most effective and successful aviation security measures, thereby exposing the passengers and air carriers to the risks of terrorist acts.

One of the most effective ways to handle this issue in a peaceful manner that would be beneficial for all the stakeholders is to inform society about the potential threats to their security, as well as the levels of danger. In particular, cooperation with governments is a critical factor that would help the airport authorities to achieve an understanding of the employed practices and their rationales. At the same time, procedures as controversial as full body scanning should be employed only in the periods of maximised risk, because they do not seem to be reasonable when applied on a regular basis.

In other words, research needs to be carried out that will be designed to assess the risks at each particular airport in order for the security operators to be able to create the most appropriate programmes concerning the practices that deal specifically with the screening of passengers. In the cases of airports with a higher rate of danger, the intrusive scanning and biometric practices need to be employed only with prior notice and approval from governmental authorities. The adoption of these practices is to be temporary and thoroughly communicated and explained by the government and the airport security authorities to the passengers. The understanding of the levels of danger by the members of the general public is likely to increase their acceptance of the practices, as well as cooperation with the security officers, without limiting their intention to deliver the safest security measures that may be implemented with the help of the latest technologies.


In general, air travel is one of the safest means of transportation in the contemporary world. It is used by millions of people on a daily basis. However, apart from technological threats and risks, aviation security involves social risks such as terrorist attacks and acts of violence on board passenger airplanes. A series of aviation security practices has been created and implemented by the security operators in order to ensure the safety of air carriers and people on board airliners. However, the threats have been evolving over time and, as a result, the security practices have had to become more advanced and invasive. In turn, the general public has responded to the invasive screening and checking procedures with a lot of dissatisfaction.

It turns out that the measures taken to maximise aviation security clash with the general right to privacy when the passengers are exposed to mandatory full body scanning that, for all practical purposes, equals strip-searches. Overall, the intrusive safety practices employed by airport security operators are known for a high rate of effectiveness when it comes to the detection of dangerous individuals and objects and substances that may be carried on the airplanes in a hidden manner. However, the implementation of such measures on a daily basis under the circumstances of minor or insignificant risks is deemed unreasonable and widely protested by the members of the general public (Stewart 2010). Due to this controversy, the security operators at airports have to choose between the employment of maximised security and having to deal with the social backlash that often results.


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