AFP - Washington will try to convince the EU to install body scanners at its main airports for use by US-bound passengers at talks in Spain on Thursday but European officials are seeking privacy safeguards before agreeing to the measure.
US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is attending an informal meeting of interior ministers in Toledo to try to strike a deal, deemed crucial following last month's failed bomb plot on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
The talks come just one day after part of Munich airport was closed for three hours due to a major alert sparked by a man running away from a security check when his laptop tested positive for possible explosives which has fueled concerns over airline safety.
Given the reservations expressed across Europe for the measure, Napolitano will try to rally the support of key interior ministers, such as France's Brice Hortefeux, at the gathering whose support could prove to be decisive, a European official told AFP.
France and Italy plan to try out the expensive scanners, which produce images that show any concealed items but also reveal the passengers' intimate bodily curves to security staff.
Britain and the Netherlands have already installed the devices but other nations, such as Germany and Spain, are more cautious and a number have said they want the EU to adopt a bloc-wide stance.
"At Toledo we are going to listen to sound out the capitals and the measures which are adopted should provide guarantees for fundamental rights," Spanish secretary of state for security Antonio Camacho said ahead of the meeting.
Napolitano wants a quick response from Europe but has taken care not to seem to be imposing the measure on the bloc.
But Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said a decision would not be taken on the use of the scanners at the meeting in Toledo.
"The scanners will be part of a general discussion on air security, we will not take an immediate decision," he told reporters late on Wednesday.
"If the Detroit attack showed us anything, it is that airplanes continue to be the target of Islamic terrorists," he added.
A 23-year-old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has been accused of trying to detonate a bomb on the flight to Detroit and has been charged with the attempted murder of 290 people. He has pleaded not guilty.
The US request has the backing of the EU's anti-terror coordinator Gilles de Kerchove.
"I am in favour of the body scanners as long as there are rules in place. It's useful, very useful even, for detecting cases such as the Detroit case where someone hid explosives around his private parts which were not searched by hand," he said earlier this month.
The outgoing European commissioner in charge of justice and security, France's Jacques Barrot, will seek guarantees from Napolitano that the images taken by the scanners are immediately destroyed.
The full-body scanners, which the United States has accelerated the use of at its airports, are equipped with memories and have the capacity of transferring images to other devices, according to online privacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center.
"Our need for privacy connot justify invasion of privacy. Our citizens are not just objects, but they are human beings," the incoming EU justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, told the European parliament last week.