TOLEDO, Spain — Washington would Thursday try to overcome EU doubts about the installation of aiport body scanners at talks in Spain, but European officials are seeking privacy safeguards before agreeing to the measure.
US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is attending an informal meeting of EU 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.
She began her talks with a bilateral meeting with Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU.
The two are scheduled to give a joint news conference at 12:30 pm (1130 GMT) after Napolitano and the interior ministers from the 27 nation bloc wrap up their talks.
The gathering comes 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. Related article: All-clear at Munich airport
Napolitano will try to rally the support of key interior ministers, such as France's Brice Hortefeux, at the gathering whose support for the measure could prove to be decisive, a European official told AFP.
France and Italy plan to try out the expensive scanners. 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 before they take a decision.
"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 Rubalcaba said a "immediate" decision would not be taken on the use of the scanners at the meeting in Toledo even as he acknowledged the need to boost airline security.
"If the Detroit attack showed us anything, it is that airplanes continue to be the target of Islamic terrorists," he told reporters late on Wednesday.
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 cannot 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.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »