German cops call airport full-body pornoscanners "useless," EU requires opt out from scanning

Bruce Schneier rounds up a series of links about problems with airport full-body "pornoscanners." The German police call them "useless" (35 percent of fliers repeatedly set them off, though they weren't carrying anything dangerous), some scanners are set off by sweaty armpits, and the European Parliament requires EU aviation authorities to allow you to opt out of full body scans (both UK and Dutch airports have a "get scanned or don't fly" requirement for people pulled for full-body scans). Here a bit from the Agence France Presse:
The report said the machines were confused by several layers of clothing, boots, zip fasteners and even pleats, while in 10 percent of cases the passenger's posture set them off.

The police called for the scanners to be made less sensitive to movements and certain types of clothing and the software to be improved. They also said the US manufacturer L3 Communications should make them work faster.

In the wake of the 10-month trial which began on September 27 last year, German federal police see no interest in carrying out any more tests with the scanners until new more effective models become available, Welt am Sonntag said.

German Police Call Airport Full-Body Scanners Useless


  1. We all hate them and I agree that they’re not effective. A few weeks ago an elderly lady in the States removed all her clothes in protest due to the alarm being repeatedly triggered.

  2. “allow you to open out of full body scans ” I guess you mean opt out.
    Anyway, so does this mean the UK and the Netherlands are contravening the EU parliament?

  3. Am I the only one who dislikes the term “pornoscanner”? As distasteful and pointless as backscatter scanners are, I don’t really agree with equating nudity with pornography. And have you seen the images backscatter machines produce? Instant bonerkill.

    1. Actually, for reasons I won’t go into, I’ve seen hundreds of the images. They are not bonerkill. 

  4. It’s nice to see that at least some agencies feel that 35% false positives is an inexcusable rate. Then again, the EU probably thinks the point is to actually catch wrongdoers and make flying safer. The US, I would suggest, doesn’t actually feel that way- or feels a massively inefficient system is fine as long as it sorta works…. come to think of it, the US has felt that massive inefficiency is alright in so many other areas….

  5. One really early “wtf” moment was, and I’m afraid I have to be anecdotal here as I can’t remember the source, when a study which investigated the high rate of false positives in certain EU-countries found out that those came from plaid fabric which confused some early scanning software and was just en vouge at the time.

    A security device that can be thwarted by fashion didn’t exactly go down well with the Germans.

  6. Twice as I have been going through the screener has been instructed to check my pocket, which was empty, it was the second small change pocket on a pair of Levis that caused the false positive.

    When your system can’t cope with a pair of Levis it’s comprehensively broken! 

  7. I was in Germany twice last year and the one time a German tv show had a overweight man ,dressed like a business flier(suit&tie), go through a full body scanner. Then he walked over and took 20 vials and tubes of various size from his person and put them on a table. The scanner showed none of them . 
    Besides that, German airport security is much much better than the US. They actually do their jobs and aren’t talking about what they had for breakfast with their coworkers.
    Unless of course you happen to be landing in Frankfurt at 3 am and the customs area is just an amnesty box.

  8. “Some scanners are set off by sweaty armpits”

    I don`t see any problem here… well, except for all the “summer” thing.

  9. These aren’t the pornoscanners. The ones with the massively high failure rate are actually a new type of scanner that doesn’t produce the porno-images, but rather simply detects abnormal body shapes and advises the officers as to where they are. They’re also being trialled in Australia.

    Sadly, the invasive scanners have a fairly accurate success rate. This isn’t a simple, “It’s invasive, horrible and doesn’t work.” No, they’re invasive, horrible… and work. This alternative isn’t invasive, isn’t that horrible, and doesn’t work.

  10. No amount of safety, no measure of security, NO NUMBER OF LIVES SAVED is worth sacrificing the founding principles of our nation.

    This is (ostensibly still) the land of the free, not the land of the safe. Freedom means risk and 235 years ago, some people decided that given the choice between living safe lives of submission to authority, or taking their lives in their hands and being free, they would rather have liberty at the expense of personal risk.

    Yes, if TSA stops doing what it is doing, planes may be blown up. Maybe we’ll have another 9/11. Maybe we’ll have 911 more 9/11s. It will be sad, people will be hurting and mourning. But that is the price we pay for liberty. When people say “freedom isn’t free,” that’s where that slogan comes from. When Thomas Jefferson said “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” it was not intended as some sort of anarchist screed. He was saying that sometimes, in order for there to be freedom for all, good people must stand against oppressors and, sometimes, sacrifice themselves in order to do so.

    And for godsakes, nobody is even asking any American patriot to fall on their sword. What we’re talking about is the people standing up and saying “Enough is enough” to the TSA. Saying “If we have to choose between being less safe in the air and enduring the wholesale sexual assault that you neander-thugs perpetrate against us every day at terminals across the nation, then we’ll keep our 4th-Amendment rights and take our chances. Now get the hell out of our airports.”

    Anyone who values safety over liberty is not espousing American principles and, in point of fact, this can be confirmed via the words of Benjamin Franklin himself. It’s been quoted a thousand times before but it rings absolutely true each and every last time. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    America. Land of the free. Not “Land of the free, except in airports or when we’re really really scared, void where prohibited, some restrictions may apply.”

    1. ‘This is the land of the free’? You really should start your comment by letting us know you’re talking about America, after all – the article is about Germany and then the EU.

      One of the problems with the current state of the anti-terror bullshit going on around the world is because America discounts everything outside its borders as either a: inconsequential, or b: a threat. Not everything’s about you.

    2. I read this as if the late, great Sam Kinison were reading it, and it makes it awesome.  Totally agree as well.

  11. I flew in and out of Amsterdam twice this year and opted out of being scanned.  the officers at the airport were very friendly and polite, quickly patted me down and let me thru.  no problem.  

  12. What EU laws require them to offer an opt-out of the scan, can anyone direct to the actual law, would be most interesting.


  13. In the wake of the 10-month trial which began on September 27 last year, German federal police see no interest in carrying out any more tests with the scanners until new more effective models become available, Welt am Sonntag said.

    It can’t happen soon enough for me. I won’t feel safe flying until they can finally take clear, high-res pictures of my balls.

  14. @Sean Riley: Thanks for the clarification.  There’s absolutely no information in the article, or in the post, about WTF it means to “set off” the machine.  The full body scanners show pictures.  I think Cory is just riding his favorite hobby horse here without actually knowing WTF he’s talking about.

  15. Considering the “full body massage” I get from the German police every time I go through Frankfurt (to Tel Aviv), I am not surprised they don’t need no pornoscanners.

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