Travellers have expressed their uncomfortable experiences passing through full-body scanners that are being rolled out across Australian airports.


Published 19 June 2022 at 7:18pm, updated 19 June 2022 at 7:28pm

By Rayane Tamer, Jessica Bahr

Jade Darko says she was left on the verge of tears after an experience with body scanners at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport. Source: Supplied / Jade Darko

When Jade Darko was travelling through security at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport last week, she said she was left on the verge of tears.

Ms Darko, a transgender woman, says she was told she needed further screening near her genital area after passing through the mandatory body scanner at Terminal 4.

“Because I’m transgender, [the body scanner] identified my downstairs as being ‘anomalous’ because there’s ‘not supposed’ to be something there,” she told SBS News.

Due to security concerns raised by the scan, Ms Darko says airport security staff told her they would need to “pat down” the area, to which she did not provide her consent.

She said staff suggested she walk through the body scanner again, this time classifying her as a male to skirt around the scan’s inaccuracy. But Ms Darko pointed out she would face the same problem as the machine would detect her breasts, too, as an “anomaly”.

After becoming distressed and explaining her transgender status to staff, Ms Darko says she was eventually allowed to go through a different security check.

“I still felt extremely violated by having to disclose the fact that I was transgender to them in order to avoid being effectively groped,” she said.

A large body scanner at an airport, with a security officer standing on the side.

Full-body scanners have been placed under scrutiny by travellers who have experienced uncomfortable incidents when passing through security. Source: AAP / Dean Lewins

Melbourne’s Terminal 4 technology is one of the country’s first that uses 3D computed tomography (CT) by UK company Smiths Detection, aimed to improve efficiency and tighten security measures.

Ms Darko described the issue underpinning her experience as “security theatre”.

“It’s my personal opinion that this is a form of security which is unlikely to stop someone that has malicious intent,” she said.

“[I think] it serves only to infringe on the privacy of people.”

SBS News has contacted Melbourne Airport and its security company, ISS Facility Services, for comment.

Dozens of people have since responded to Ms Darko’s tweet, sharing similar anecdotes of embarrassment at security clearances that use the 3D technology.

Separately, ABC journalist Louise Milligan also shared she had an “embarrassing, uncomfortable, creepy” experience” after she was made to remove her jacket at Sydney Airport’s Terminal 3 in order to pass through the scanners.

Milligan said she was left exposed, after only wearing a thin shirt underneath her jacket.

“I’m @SydneyAirport & at new full-body security screening was made to take off fitted business jacket (only had little camisole underneath). Have never had this happen anywhere,” she said on Twitter.

The traveller in front of her, who was wearing a “big bulky jumper”, she said, was not required to strip his clothing to pass through the scanner.

When Milligan complained to Qantas staff members, they disclosed to her that during the same week of her experience that multiple women made similar complaints.

“They [Qantas staff] said a woman was crying after being forced to remove her t-shirt. They’ve complained to airport managers,” she said.

Sydney Airport responded to Milligan’s tweet, expressing their apologies and confirmed they will make further enquiries with their security contractor.

Sydney Airport’s private contractor company Certis Security Australia said in a statement to SBS News that the body scanners allows for a safe travel experience for all passengers.

“The body scanners provide increased safety and security as they detect foreign objects, not limited to metal detection,” Certis said.

SBS News asked Certis if any exemptions were applicable to travellers who felt uncomfortable removing their outerwear for personal or religious reasons.

“The removal of coats and jackets is a requirement of the Aviation Screening Notice of body scan,” Certis said.

Comment: Really…?

The new 3D scanners have been installed in Sydney Airport’s Qantas domestic terminal since early June this year.

While they have been used at the Qantas international terminal in Sydney “for many years”, Certis said the technology will be rolled out across all Australian airports in the future.

“We are committed to ensuring a safe travel experience for all passengers, this is why we have put in place standard operating procedures that are aligned to the Aviation Screening Notice regulations determined by the Cyber Infrastructure Security Centre (CISC).”