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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 5301


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (09:32): I had commenced my speech yesterday on the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill, so I am pleased to return to it today because there are other matters that I need to detail.

Other problems have been identified during the inquiry that my colleague Senator Scott Ludlam initiated and these have also come out at the seven-week trial that was held into the technology at both Sydney and Melbourne airports. Almost half the people scanned in this trial had to undergo further searches after triggering the scanner alarm. The minister's department, the Department of Infrastructure and Transport, submission to the Senate inquiry, cited the common causes of what is triggering these many false alarms. We are finding out that anything from buckles, watches, hairclips, studs to zippers can result in false positives occurring with the alarms going off.

The department conceded that the process proved slower than the currently used metal detectors, so, again, it comes back to: how do we ensure that the safety measures put in place for air travel actually work and do not result in a false sense of security?

In the minister's closing speech in the House of Representatives he noted that aviation security screening in Australia must use non-ionising millimetre-wave technology and that X-ray technology, also often called ionising radiation, will not be allowed. It is good that he said that but, having recognised that there is a problem because, as we know, in Europe—for example, in France and Germany—ionising radiation scanners have been banned. Why has the minister left open in the bill the possibility of introducing screening technologies? This is unnecessary excess that the minister has not explained and it is why the Greens will move an amendment to rule out the use of ionising backscatter X-ray equipment. It needs to be in the legislation. It needs to be clear. The ban needs to be put in place.

This was also a point that was included in the submission of the Australian airline pilots association. It is relevant to airport workers, pilots, cabin crew and frequent flyers who are going through these scanners on a regular basis. So, yes, the minister has said that they should not be used. Surely, we need to take the responsible step and ensure that it is in legislation that it will not occur.

The minister also noted that images produced by a body scanner must only be a generic or stick-figure image that is gender neutral, does not identify the person and that the image is not stored. I acknowledge that, in terms of civil liberties, this is an improvement but it does not address the more fundamental right of people to opt out of the scan, if they so wish, on a myriad personal and privacy grounds well beyond medical reasons. Again, I put it to you to imagine being at an airport. You are waiting in a queue, and it is mandatory for this screening to be carried out. It could put some people in a very embarrassing situation. A woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has a breast prosthesis or somebody with a colostomy bag have to explain to a security person, a stranger, about their medical situation. That should not happen. They should have the option to opt out, and opt out means that they are then patted down. So the search is still undertaken. This is how it works in the United States. This is how we could improve this legislation.

Documents released under freedom of information reveal that staff from the Office of Transport Security confirmed the machines would detect people who are wearing a prosthesis. This is a very real problem. It has been recognised by the Breast Cancer Network Australia. They have sent out alerts to their 70,000 members recommending that they carry a letter from their doctor and speak to security staff before passing through the body scanner to ensure discreet treatment.

It is worth clarifying here that breast implants would not be detected, but prosthetic breasts used by women who have had a mastectomy will be. Similarly, transgender people who use prosthetics could also be forced to undergo a scan and be put in an embarrassing situation. This can easily be handled in a respectful way by allowing the opt-out in favour of the patting down. Then people would not have to explain their personal situation; and, for privacy reasons, they should not have to.

Many significant privacy concerns with the proposed use of the scanners were outlined to the Senate committee inquiry. The premise of the bill is that a person is taken to consent to an intrusive screening procedure whenever they present at a screening point at an airport. Many civil liberties groups put in submissions to the inquiry, even though it was a very rushed inquiry—only two weeks to get those submissions in—and many raised how that it is a gross and unnecessary incursion on people's rights to decline the scan and their right to object to the creation of the scanner image.

We certainly acknowledge that the right to privacy is not an absolute. But it is a crucial part of the democratic process and it should not be compromised wholesale when there are acceptable ways to handle this issue of airport security, with a more layered response and without being absolute about scanners. The President of Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, Michael Cope, said in their submission:

… people are being asked to undergo the equivalent of a strip search with a bag over their head.

…   …   …

The fundamental question is whether the risk of being killed on in a terrorist attack, which is considerably less than that of dying crossing a road or falling off a ladder, justifies strip searching everyone who gets on a plane.

…   …   …

As one privacy expert put it if you are trying to stop bombers at the airport it's probably too late.

Mr Cope commented to the media that the government's decision to ensure that the image thrown up by a scan would be a stick figure rather than a person's naked body shape was a significant advance but still denied passengers the choice of a body frisk search.

The Chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation, Roger Clark, defended the rights of people to object to being scanned, noting that the bill went beyond allowing the introduction of one specific type of body scanner. He noted the rushed process for inquiry into the bill, saying that civil liberties groups had not been told in advance about the two-week parliamentary inquiry. He also noted the government's failure to complete a privacy impact assessment.

So it is disappointing again that Minister Albanese—and now we hear the coalition is working with them on this—is presenting this inadequate legislation. We could have worked together to get it right, to make sure that protections are in place and to make sure that the scanning equipment is reliable and is not going to throw up a large number of false negatives.

Given that the government has already commenced the phase-in of these scanners, the Greens are putting up amendments, as I have mentioned, that would: ensure an opt-out provision remains—a frisk search—as an alternative to a full-body scan; rule out the use of ionising backscatter X-ray equipment rather than limiting it to certain circumstances prescribed by regulation; and ensure that any new technologies are rigorously assessed for compliance with health regulations prior to their introduction.

This security system has been proven to be slower and less effective than the current system. It has been proven to be unreliable, with a high percentage of triggered false alarms. It has been shown to slow down processing times at airport security checkpoints. It is an incursion on the civil liberties of many people who have good grounds on which to opt-out of the scan and request an alternative frisk search. The system also has public health implications which are not fully known, especially considering the possibility of introducing new scanner technologies in the future.

It is by no means certain that these significant drawbacks are outweighed by any increased measure of security compared with that provided by an opt-out regime. The Greens believe that the government should have heeded the community's concerns, the submissions to the inquiry and the recommendations of the Senate committee that addressed the serious privacy, civil liberties and public health concerns. As such, we do not support the bill in its current form and will argue strongly for the amendments. Thank you.