Victoria Cohen writing in her column in The Observer, UK, on Sunday mentioned that she had read of body-scanners being used at Bath railway station. She used this as the starting point for a standard kind of warning on increasing surveillance.
Now, normally, I would thoroughly approve, and such diffusion of technologies of surveillance would fit with the trajectories we outlined in the Report on the Surveillance Society a few years back. However, it didn’t take a lot of digging (and I am probably not the only person who has discovered this) to find that she was basing her column on a misinterpretation of what had gone on in Bath. According to an Avon and Somerset Constabulary press release, what was happening was a temporary exercise conducted jointly with the British Transport Police, using not a body-scanner but a metal detector (or ‘knife arch’ as they are sometimes termed) and sniffer dogs. This was apparently part of a policy to raise awareness of nightlife safety.
There are of course still many issues with the routine use of both sniffer dogs and metal detectors, but we need to be very careful to get the facts right when we are making comments about the spread of surveillance. Get things wrong, and the whole issue can get tarnished as alarmist.
Body-scanners are not being used in UK railway stations. Not yet, anyway…