Creating a fairer Britain
17 January 2010
The Commission has asked the government to set out in detail its proposals and the evidence to justify profiling and the introduction of body scanning equipment at airports, in a letter sent to the Home Secretary.
The Commission fully recognises the significant threat posed by terrorist activities, in particular in relation to air transport, and the need for the government to take urgent and effective steps to protect the travelling public.
However, the Commission believes that counter terrorism policies must be justifiable under the law and work to enhance, not damage community relations.
John Wadham, Group Director Legal at the Equality and Human Rights Commission says:
“The Commission fully accepts the government’s responsibility to protect the safety and security of air travellers. The right to life is the ultimate human right and we support the government reviewing security in the light of recent alleged terrorist activity.
“However, the government needs to ensure that measures to protect this right also take into account the need to be proportionate in its counter-terrorism proposals and ensure that they are justified by evidence and effectiveness.”
The Commission is concerned that that the proposals to introduce body scanners are likely to have a negative impact on individual’s rights to privacy, especially members of particular groups including disabled people, older people, children, transgendered people women and religious groups. Under the Human Rights Act, any infringement of the right to privacy must be justified, necessary and proportionate.
The proposals raise valid privacy concerns that the Commission and the public hold around how intimate pictures are viewed and protected. These include where the screening takes place; the sex of the person doing the scanning; training and criminal checks on the operators; how many other people are able to view the images; and how long they are kept for.
While the Home Secretary has stated that the government will seek to ensure that its proposals meet similar concerns expressed by others, the Commission has asked him for further details as to what measures will be put in place and how the government will gather evidence that implementation of body scanning is compliant with the right to privacy.
The Home Secretary has also raised the issue of profiling in the context of selecting people for scanning. The Commission has serious concerns that the practice of profiling is likely to lead to selection of people on the grounds of race, ethnicity or religion. Such selection is discriminatory, contrary to domestic legislation and international standards, and is harmful to community relations.
In the absence of any evidence provided by the government, the Commission remains to be convinced that the proposals on profiling set out by the Home Secretary are an effective response to the current threat, and are therefore justifiable. The Commission is therefore not convinced that the proposals amount to a lawful, or proportionate response to the current threat.
Again, the Commission notes that the Home Secretary has said the government recognises these concerns and the need for further careful consideration of these issues.
However, the Commission considers that the government should proceed with the utmost caution in relation to any policy of profiling and fully evaluate whether implementation of such policies can be carried out in a way that does not amount to unlawful discrimination.
For more press information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.
For general enquiries please contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610 / Scotland 0845 604 5510 / Wales 0845 604 8810
The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.