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Europe's airport security dilemma

Body scanners: You'll see them at US airports. But whether European airports will have them is up in the air.

The machines’ potential use has been debated for years, sometimes hotly. Last year the European Commission dropped a proposed measure that would have regulated the use of such equipment throughout the EU after the European Parliament said there were too many unanswered questions about the impact it would have on “human rights, privacy, personal dignity, health and data protection.”

In Germany recently, protesters in a "Flesh Mob" dropped their drawers in Berlin’s Tegel Airport to oppose the scanners, arguing that the scans could violate travelers' privacy:

The German government has remained noncommittal on whether it will require the scanners.

A special meeting of EU aviation experts on Jan. 7 failed to produce any clarity in policy. A statement issued after the meeting announced that the bloc is “considering an initiative on imaging technology to reinforce passenger security, while at the same time addressing the conditions for using such technology, in particular, privacy, data protection and health issues.”

The next attempt to harmonize the EU approach comes Thursday, as EU interior ministers meet in Toledo, Spain. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will attend the meeting and is expected to press EU partners to make more use of the scanners.

But the Spanish presidency hosting the meeting isn’t itself a huge fan of the scanners and isn’t promising any big movement in the EU position — or rather the lack of one, at this point. Spanish presidency spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said her government’s goal is to “pursue a common position” regarding the larger questions of airport security. “Yes, we have to discuss how we can enhance security and how it can be done in a coordinated and efficient manner,” she said, “but this doesn’t mean tomorrow we are going to have a proposal on introducing scanners.”

That’s a delay that probably won’t bother the airports. O’Meara is careful not to give the impression that his organization wants to forego safeguards for financial reasons, but he warned that any new government regulations must be accompanied by new ideas on how to finance them. “(I)n the medium- to long-term, it’s not a sustainable situation for European airports,” he said. “People have been wondering what’s going to happen.”