Tougher international standards needed in airport security, say MPs

24 March 2010

The Home Affairs Committee says in a report released today that the wider introduction of full-body scanners is a welcome development in airport security.

However, it fears that the Government’s position of adopting "proportionate" measures is a euphemism for adopting a wholly reactive stance and waiting for terrorists to demonstrate their new capabilities before implementing improved security measures.

In view of the ongoing terrorist threat to airline passengers and staff the Committee urge the Government to constantly look for further technological measures to improve airport security.

The Committee is satisfied that the privacy concerns that have been expressed in relation to these devices are overstated and that privacy concerns should not prevent the deployment of scanners, but is concerned at the delay in the introduction of other security devices such as hand-held Electronic Trace Detection equipment. The deployment of such equipment must be quicker.

The Committee also says that the Government should be wary of relying on one make or model of equipment and must place greater emphasis on varying the measures put in place, where possible concealing the technical specifications of equipment away from the public gaze. Passengers, and terrorists, should not know what regime they will face when they arrive at airports; greater unpredictability and a higher level of deterrence is needed in airport security arrangements.

International standards in aviation security must be made more stringent and more must be done to tackle terrorism at the source. Despite the work done by the Department of Transport overseas weak points exist in global airport security and the British Government should do more, more quickly to improve airport security across the globe. As has been the case with Yemenea airlines, the Government should be more willing to refuse direct flights from countries which do not meet minimum security standards,

The Committee also raises concerns at the institutional separation of airport security from wider counter-terrorism measures. The current set-up and demarcation is "unhelpful". Airport security measures should become the responsibility of the Home Office, under the auspices of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT).

Chair of the Committee Keith Vaz MP said:

"The threat to air passengers from terrorists is very real and as we have seen repeatedly over the last year or two, those who would do us harm are constantly evolving new ways to try to commit atrocities. While welcoming these new measures, we remain concerned at what seems to be a reluctance to aggressively adopt new measures and the Government’s adoption of a somewhat 'reactive approach' to aviation security.

"We must be constantly evolving our response, developing and adopting new technologies as quickly as possible and creating an unpredictable mix of security measures at airports.

"We also do not understand why transport security remains institutionally separate from wider counter-terrorism work and intelligence-gathering and we cannot see the benefits of this separation of responsibility.

"Close collaboration between Government departments is a poor substitute for centralising policy and control under one roof. We recommend that Transec becomes the responsibility of the Home Office under the auspices of the OSCT."

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