Customs rejects privacy fears over scanners at airport, cruise terminal

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 January, 2013, 4:06am

Customs officials have moved to quell privacy fears over controversial new full-body scanners headed for the Kai Tak cruise terminal and Chep Lap Kok airport, saying they are not intrusive and will reduce the need for physical searches.

Only passengers deemed a high security risk will be asked to go through the scanners, which use a passive millimeter wave to detect temperature differences between a body and an object.

A Customs and Excise Department spokeswoman said the scanners "will not display body features or anatomical details of the person being screened and hence trigger no privacy concern".

The system would be the first of its kind to be introduced for trial by Customs for passenger clearance at entry and exit points, she said. She confirmed that three scanners would be bought for a total of HK$6.9 million, with two to be installed at the new Kai Tai cruise terminal and one at Chep Lap Kok airport.

"In our daily customs clearance, it is not uncommon to find travellers concealing contraband like drugs, weapons and birds underneath their clothes," the spokeswoman said.

The "non-intrusive inspection equipment" will allow Customs staff to see beneath a passenger's clothes as the scanner produces an infrared-like image of a naked body.

The new equipment would "help enhance detection capability while reducing hassles to genuine travellers", she said. "If a passenger declines to be screened by the system, Customs officers will have to rely on other inspection methods such as personal search to look for contraband hidden beneath a person's clothing."

The Sunday Morning Post revealed last week that Customs was trialling the controversial scanners this year, sparking privacy fears from civil liberties groups.