Britain’s Brown orders review to improve airport security after Christmas Day attack

By Sylvia Hui, AP
Friday, January 1, 2010

UK considers body scanners after airline attack

LONDON — Britain is considering introducing new technology such as full body scanners to improve airport security after the attempted Christmas Day airline attack, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Friday.

The failed attempt to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit last week was a “wake-up call” for Britain to move quickly to combat changing terrorist techniques by updating its security measures and improving the way it shares information about terror suspects, Brown said.

“These enemies of democracy and freedom … are concealing explosives in ways which are more difficult to detect,” the prime minister said in an article posted on his official Web site.

Brown said traditional pat-down searches and sniffer dogs are no longer enough to identify hidden explosives and weapons. Together with the U.S., Britain is examining the use of more sophisticated equipment — including full body scanners and advanced x-ray technology, he said.

The U.S. and many other countries have been reluctant to introduce body scanners that peer underneath clothing because of privacy concerns. Privacy advocates say they amount to a “virtual strip search” because they display an image of the body onto a computer screen.

But reacting to last week’s attempted airline bombing — in which 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded his flight from Amsterdam to Detroit carrying undetected explosives — the Netherlands announced Wednesday it will immediately begin using full body scanners for flights heading to the United States.

The controversial scanners are currently on trial at Britain’s Manchester Airport. BAA, the authority that owns six U.K. airports including London’s Heathrow, has said it would await a European ruling on privacy regulations before considering a similar move.

Brown also stressed that the British government is working to prevent young people at British universities and colleges from being targetted by terrorist recruiters.

Some security experts and the British media have speculated that Abdulmutallab — who was president of University College London’s Islamic Society when he studied for his undergraduate degree there — may have been recruited by al-Qaeda extremists on campus.

“Although we are increasingly clear that he linked up with al-Qaeda in Yemen after leaving London, we nevertheless need to remain vigilant against people being radicalized here as well as abroad,” Brown said.

The leader also said he has ordered an immediate review aiming at tightening Britain’s passenger screening methods and improving its watch-list system.

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