Issues with Modern Technology in Airport Security

The threats of terrorism, drug trafficking and violence are forcing governments and businesses to tighten control and security measures in crowded places. Even at concerts or in schools, one can see metal detectors that check visitors to find dangerous items for society. Airports and planes are areas of increased risk, since the number of people in the terminals is constantly equally big, passengers are limited by space during the flights, and any incident can become international.

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For this reason, aviation uses various technologies that help to check passengers and their baggage faster and more accurately, which ensures their safety. However, like all new inventions, security technologies have their advantages and disadvantages; hence, governments, operators, and airports must consider their effectiveness, as well as ethical, legal and privacy issues of their application.

Key Features and Benefits of Modern Airport Security Technologies

The technological progress of the twenty-first century is striking in its speed, and inventions become a commercial product or parts of various state systems. Modern aviation security technologies include full-body scanners, biometrics and artificial intelligence. Often they are used in combination, but also airports can apply only one or several of them based on their capabilities and needs. However, all these technologies have their characteristics and perform different functions.

Full-body scanners are a relatively recent invention that allows security to find objects on the human body that a metal detector cannot see. There are two types of scanners: the millimetre wave machine and the backscatter machine (Nugraha and Choi, 2016). The first type sends radio waves that form a three-dimensional image of the human body, and the second one uses x-rays that are deflected from the human body to create a two-dimensional image (Nugraha and Choi, 2016).

Thus, in a few seconds, the security receives a clear picture of the person’s body, and if a passenger is trying to carry something under the clothes, this item is noticeable in the image. The advantage of this technology is the high speed of check, avoiding the need for physical inspection and the ability to see non-metallic objects that may endanger safety.

Artificial intelligence technology has many applications in airport security, and the use of biometric data is one of them. The first option that has already begun to be used at some airports in the world is face recognition and document verification using a computer. For such a check, the system scans the person’s face and his or her documents and then searches for a match in the database and displays at the security’s computer (Mironenko Enerstveld, 2017; Brostoff, 2019).

The main advantage of this technology is the speed of verification, as well as more accurate identification of person and forgery of documents. Another option for checking biometric data is a fingerprint scan, which also makes it possible to identify a passenger or employee quickly (Price and Forrest, 2016). Consequently, the advantages of verifying biometric data are the acceleration of the control procedure and the absence of distracting factor in the verifier.

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Another use of artificial intelligence is to scan passengers’ luggage. For example, usually, video equipment, laptops and some other elements must be removed from the carry-on luggage to pass the check. Artificial intelligence can scan and recognise objects inside the bag, which reduces the check time and helps to determine the contents more accurately (Mironenko Enerstveld, 2017). Besides, some security video cameras can recognise weapons that a person holds in his or her hands or even hides under clothes, which helps to prevent terrorist attacks (Nowacki and Paszukow, 2018). Thus, new devices that help to avoid danger and eliminate it in time appears with the development of technology and improves the quality of security services.

The Efficiency of Security Technology

The first feature that one needs to know and evaluate for using security technologies is their effectiveness and usefulness. All devices are designed to provide a more comfortable and high-quality check of passengers and baggage; however, the idea is not always implemented according to the plan. In addition, the use of new technologies reveals shortcomings, which are associated with their imperfection or mistakes of the developers.

The most effective technology today is full-body scanners as they have many advantages over metal detectors. These machines can create both two-dimensional and three-dimensional images, which shows everything that is hidden under clothing. There are even cases when such scanners helped to detect tumour, cyst or hernia in passengers (Rapaport, 2016). However, the same feature is a drawback as a person may undergo an additional internal examination if he or she does not have a medical note from the physician. Nevertheless, full-body scanners do an excellent job if one judges by their effectiveness in terms of security.

However, the effectiveness of various artificial intelligence devices is often debated. If in the case of fingerprints, the probability of error is not so significant, then the face-scanning can cause considerable difficulties. For example, a program may not recognise a person if he or she made some surgery changes. Sometimes, such a situation can happen even without physical modifications of a person, if the database itself is incomplete or an error has occurred in the program.

Today, in this case, the passenger can pass a routine security check; however, if this changes, new difficulties will arise. In addition, such a program may determine the identity incorrectly and confuse a passenger with a person who does not have a visa or even is a criminal. In this case, the inspection by security may take hours, and the passenger will miss the flight. For this reason, operators and airport staff should check the accuracy of the devices, as well as the completeness of the database before investing and applying them.

Privacy Issues

The issue of privacy is also an essential aspect in the use of technology. First of all, passengers are worried that scanning their body can reveal information about them that should remain private. Secondly, today most of the information is stored in electronic databases that can be stolen and used. Therefore, the operator must be sure that the technologies are safe for the private information of passengers to apply and invest in them.

One of the concerns for passengers is the question of what full-body scanners see as they fear for the privacy of their bodies. Any scanners do not see a person naked because only the shape of the figure is displayed on the image (Nugraha and Choi, 2016). However, since the body contours are clearly visible, the scanner can display information that a person prefers to keep secret; for example, transgender features or physical disabilities.

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In general, the information is not saved and is not transferred to third parties, but both security guards and passengers nearby can accidentally see the picture. Nevertheless, such a mechanism reduces the need for physical inspection of passengers by employees, which allows them to maintain the privacy of their body. Therefore, operators should consider this aspect when installing scanners and offer more enclosed cabins.

Moreover, the privacy of information is also of concern, since databases with biometric data are stored for some period, and documents are compared with national databases. This fact makes it possible for attackers to steal and use data if the system is not secure enough. Therefore, any device using artificial intelligence should be checked for the presence of a coding and data protection system. In addition, the access to data government agencies have should be checked, as well as whether officials can get it without the permission of the owner or the court.

Ethical and Cultural Issues

Another issue that should be considered is the particular ethical, religious and cultural perception of the population. Some passengers find it unacceptable to scan the body; others do not want to transfer their biometric data into the system. Moreover, in many countries, people can refuse these procedures and pass the usual security check, so the use of new technologies is not always a useful solution.

The unwillingness of people to go through a particular check-in procedure at the airport can exist because of cultural and religious preferences, personal factors and beliefs. For example, in Munich, a Muslim woman refused to scan for religious reasons and was denied boarding (Nugraha and Choi, 2016). People also may refuse to enter biometric data and face recognition as they believe that in this way, they are being monitored.

Ethical issues are also related to identifying the physical characteristics of a person during a scan, which were mentioned earlier. It can be morally uncomfortable for a passenger that strangers, even if they are authorised to check, will study his or her body. Besides, during the scan, a person can receive a dose of radiation, and although some of the data indicate that it is not dangerous, many people fear for their health (Zhang, 2019).

Moreover, scanning for children poses a more significant threat than for adults and also raises the question of the need for its use. There may be dozens of reasons for the refusal to use technology by passengers, but depending on the country, they can significantly affect the efficiency of technology use, or have only occasional cases. However, it is necessary to pay attention primarily on the cultural and religious characteristics of the country in which new technologies will be used.

Legal Issues

The use of security technologies has two different effects related to legal issues of personal privacy and health security. On the one hand, full-body scanners reduce the need for physical inspection if the inspector has suspicions, but they turn out to be false. On the other hand, scanners often display objects that do not pose a threat but may appear suspicious to the security, which leads to unnecessary physical inspection. However, according to the law of many countries, a person can be searched only due to valid reasons, but the measures for their validation do not exist (Kyriazanos, Thanos, and Thomopoulos, 2019).

In addition, scanners reveal details of the passenger’s physical condition, which may be unacceptable for some people, and at some airports, the images are stored in the database, which is also a violation of confidentiality (Mironenko Enerstveld, 2017). Therefore, investors should consider the legal characteristics of the country before applying technology.

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Moreover, radiation and wave radiation from scanners can damage human health. A serviceable and properly designed scanner emits a small and safe dose of radiation or waves; nevertheless, in case of improper operation, a person may be injured. Smith and Brooks (2017) also note that the biometric system could be dangerous for people, and the government should ensure the safety of any devices.

The complexity of this situation lies in the fact that it is difficult for a person to prove that he or she was injured by screening. However, it is also difficult for the producer of scanner to prove the opposite fact. Therefore, the operator or the government must take into account all legal issues related to the use of security technologies to avoid possible difficulties and claims in the future, as well as to guarantee the rights of citizens.


Modern airport security technologies have many advantages; however, they bring many issues that must be considered before their application. The main ones are legal, private and ethical issues, as well as the efficiency of the devices. Privacy is a special category, although it can also be included in ethical and legal issues, since it affects both existing laws and the moral principles of people. Legal aspects also refer to the safety of passengers’ health and responsibility for the violation of human rights. Ethical representations include cultural and religious characteristics of the population, which may interfere with the use of modern technology.

However, one of the most critical issues is the effectiveness of security technologies as the imperfection of artificial intelligence devices or scanners can bring even more inconvenience to airport workers and passengers. Therefore, governments and operators should consider all these aspects and prioritise them to determine the benefits of investing in new airport security technologies and their application.

Reference List

Brostoff, G. (2019) ‘How AI and biometrics are driving next-generation authentication’, Biometric Technology Today, 2019(6), pp. 7-9.

Kyriazanos, D. M., Thanos, K. G. & Thomopoulos, S. C. (2019) ‘Automated decision making in airport checkpoints: bias detection toward smarter security and fairness’, IEEE Security & Privacy, 17(2), pp. 8-16.

Mironenko Enerstvedt O. (2017) Aviation security, privacy, data Protection and other human rights: technologies and legal principles. Berlin: Springer.

Nowacki, G. and Paszukow, B. (2018) ‘Security requirements for new threats at international airports’, TransNav, the International Journal on Marine Navigation and Safety of Sea Transportation, 12(3), pp. 187-192.

Nugraha R. and Choi J. (2016) ‘Body scanners within airport security systems: security or privacy issue?’, The Aviation & Space Journal, 15(3), pp.11-24.

Price J. and Forrest J. (2016) Practical aviation security: predicting and preventing future threats. Amsterdam: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Rapaport L. (2016) ‘When an airport scanner sees a cyst as a security threat’, Reuters. Web.

Smith C. and Brooks D. (2017) Security science: the theory and practice of security. Amsterdam: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Zhang Z. (2019) ‘Technologies raise the effectiveness of airport security control’, 2019 IEEE 1st International Conference on Civil Aviation Safety and Information Technology (ICCASIT) conference proceedings. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Kunming, China. IEEE, p. 431-434.

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