STRASBOURG, France_EU lawmakers have joined U.S. civil liberty campaigners in criticizing a new scanner technology that allows airport security staff to see through passengers' clothes, calling it a virtual strip search that should only be used as a last resort.
"Many travelers will consider these scanners an enormous intrusion" on their personal privacy, Philip Bradbourn, a British Conservative member of the EU assembly, said Tuesday.
The new system, which the European Union plans to authorize at the bloc's airports, allows guards to see an outline of passengers' bodies beneath their clothes, making it easier to detect any concealed objects.
It already is being introduced in several U.S. airports and has been tested in other countries around the world, including EU nations such as Britain and the Netherlands. However, EU officials said it could face a ban if the 27-nation bloc does not include it in a new regulation listing acceptable airport security equipment.
Bradbourn said the technology should not be used routinely on passengers, but could be introduced when suspicions are raised.
"There may be some benefit in having body scanners in our airports, but they should be a last resort and a substitution for a strip search, not a random sample of innocent holiday-makers," he said.
The plans have provoked concern from across the political spectrum, and many EU lawmakers issued statements ahead of Tuesday night's debate about the matter in the European Parliament, which is based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg.
"The body, or nude, scanners create a three-dimensional picture which shows the passenger without clothes, including their genitals," said German Social Democrat Wolfgang Kreissl-Doerfler.
The EU's executive body, the European Commission, says the legislation under consideration would respect safety and privacy rules, adding that passengers who objected could be offered an alternative form of security check.
Members of the European Parliament are demanding the right to vote on the scanners, which could be included in the list of authorized security equipment as a technical measure that would not require the assembly's approval.
If the full body scanners are included in the list, each of the 27 EU nations would be free to decide if they wanted to use them.
The American Civil Liberties Union has long campaigned against use of the scanners for routine checking at U.S. airports, saying they should only be used in place of an intrusive search when there is probable cause.
After the machines were introduced at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport last year, officials there said they had few complaints from passengers, saying most approved because lines moved faster.