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Germany begins using full-body airport scanners

By Stephen Lowman

HAMBURG -- Facing pressure from the United States to improve security, Germany on Monday began using full-body scanners to examine passengers at the international airport here -- the first time a German airport has used the imaging devices.

The two full-body scanners have been deployed on a six-month trial basis. Passengers have the option of being screened by the new machines or by one of the regular airport scanners.

Full-body scanners are in use to varying degrees in airports across Europe. Following last year's failed Christmas Day bomb attack on a Northwest Airlines plane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit, U.S. Homeland Security officials put pressure on their counterparts around the world to implement security measures like full-body scans. Along with Amsterdam, the machines can be found at airports in cities such as London, Paris and Moscow.

Some airports, such as Amsterdam's Schiphol, have gone so far as to make all passengers flying to the United States pass through a full-body scan or be patted down. But a Hamburg airport spokeswoman said that individuals bound for the United States will have the choice as to which scanner they pass through.

Supporters argue the full-body scanners allow security officials to see weapons and explosive material that would go unnoticed by conventional means. Others, including the U.S. Government Accountability Office, have said their effectiveness is unclear.

Germany has been slower to adopt the machines because of the public outcry over privacy and health risks.

As if to prove to fliers that they had nothing to fear, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière on Monday passed through the full-body scanners in front of a gaggle of reporters and photographers. The Interior Ministry is overseeing the trial run.

Airport spokeswoman Stefanie Harder said officials will be watching the effect the machines have on moving passengers through security.

"It's important that it speeds things up and doesn't slow them down," she said. After six months, the passenger flow "should be at the same level or better."

Italy recently tried out the full-body scanners but came away disappointed. The president of the Italian aviation authority, Vito Riggio, told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle: "We didn't get good results during testing. It takes a long time to examine a person, more than a manual inspection."

Hamburg's airport is the fifth largest in Germany and serves 12 million passengers per year. The Interior Ministry chose the airport for its moderate size and its proximity to the federal police academy in the nearby town of Luebeck, where tests were done on the machines.

By Stephen Lowman  | September 27, 2010; 2:29 PM ET
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