When you are evaluating the acquisition of new technology how do you determine whether it will be a good fit? Do you just buy it without testing it, as the U.S. did in the case of airport full body scanners, or do you operationally test it, garner feedback, and carefully perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the technology is appropriate? Germany chose the latter course and after nearly a year of testing, has flatly rejected full body scanners, labeling them unreliable and ineffective.
For the last ten months, Germany has tested full body scanners at Hamburg International Airport–I saw them myself when I was there earlier this year. The results? The false alarm quota was “significantly higher than 50%” according to one German official and alarms were frequently triggered by such innocuous things as certain fabric types and underarm sweating.
The interior ministry in Berlin stated that “the technology is not mature enough for the available equipment to be used in practice” and that it will therefore not be installed at the county’s airports “for the time being”.
While the authority is, in principle, in favour of using body scanners to “improve efficiency and effectiveness of air transport security checks”, it said that the testing resulted in “too many” false alarms.
Germany adapted filtering software on their millimeter wave machines (they did not use backscatter technology) like the TSA rolled out at Dallas-Fort Worth this week, so privacy concerns were never as prevalent as in the United States. The machines simply did not work, and as we have seen in the United States–their security value was questionable at best.
I applaud the German government for scrupulously evaluating full body scanners rather than rushing into a costly program of questionable value. Such a shame that we did not do the same before spending over $1BN on them…