Edinburgh Airport security ask passengers religion

Edinburgh Airport. Picture: Jon Savage
Edinburgh Airport. Picture: Jon Savage
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PASSENGERS going through security checks at Edinburgh Airport are being asked what religion they are – sparking an unholy row over the nature of the personal question.

Transport chiefs say passengers selected to go through full body scanners are not obliged to answer the question, and that it’s there to prove certain groups are not being repeatedly singled out for checks.

But critics have been quick to label the step intrusive – and one which does nothing to keep passengers safe.

One 36-year-old who travelled through the airport claims he was given the impression answering the question was mandatory.

Iain McGill, of Leith, who runs his own employment agency, was waiting to board a flight last Friday, when he was randomly selected for a body scan.

He said: “After I had been scanned they asked me what country I was resident in, what age I was and what my religion was. I didn’t make a fuss as I didn’t want to risk not being allowed on the flight.

“I was absolutely, definitely, one hundred per cent not informed I was not obliged to answer the questions.”

According to body scanner protocol set out by the Department for Transport, completion of the form – which does not record passengers’ names – is voluntary. However, there is no reference made to the questions on the department’s website.

Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, called the questioning “bizarre and intrusive”. He said: “This questioning does nothing to keep people safe, but it does suggest a worryingly lax attitude towards passenger privacy. People should only be asked what security staff absolutely need to know and everything else should be voluntary. It’s worrying that this passenger was not told it was a voluntary question.”

A spokeswoman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland said: “If, during random scanning processes, Edinburgh Airport are asking passengers questions of a personal nature, they must make it clear where there is no obligation to answer. If these questions are of a monitoring nature then this is a responsible action to take, as long as care is also taken by airport personnel to explain to passengers why they are doing so.”

Ian Gilmour, Minister of St Andrews and St George’s Church and Moderator of the Edinburgh Presbytery, said he found it “surprising” that people were being asked about their religion by airport security.

He said: “Different religions have different attitudes towards scanning systems. People should be clearly told if they have to answer questions or not and also informed about whether they are able to avoid certain types of scan for 
religious reasons.”

A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said the step is required to make sure they meet “diversity guidelines set out by the Department for Transport”. He said: “These questions are voluntary. This is clearly stated by our security staff”.

Controversial full body scanners – which provide operators with a “naked” image of the passenger – were first introduced at Edinburgh last September and the questionnaire has been part of the process since then.