Body scanner firm sees security worries boosting business

Body scanner firm sees security worries boosting business
Photo: Smiths Detection
Tighter security at airports may be an inconvenience to passengers, but for one firm near Frankfurt, Europe's third-largest hub, it is a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity.

Smiths Detection, a Wiesbaden-based subsidiary of a British company, already holds around one-third of the global market in airport security systems and hopes that stricter controls after a number of alerts will boost this share further.

The September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States “transformed our industry,” Bernhard Semling, the firm’s director of strategy, told AFP in an interview.

Founded in 1946 by a manufacturer of television components, the firm moved into X-ray scanners in the 1970s and is now pinning its hopes on body scanners, a technology that allows police to detect items concealed under clothing.

For Semling, Thursday’s meeting of European Union interior ministers and US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about installing such scanners at EU airports is a key moment in the development of the industry.

“For the body scanning market to take off properly, we need a legislative framework,” he said.

Washington is trying to overcome European doubts over personal privacy in a bid to increase security after a failed bid to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, an event Semling said instantly boosted demand for his products.

He also dismissed concerns about personal privacy.

“Our system does not show the body, just a video indicating suspect areas. We can also offer to blur out certain zones, such as the face,” he continued, adding that the computer can be configured to ensure, for instance, that images of women can be accessed only by female staff.

Smiths Detection exports roughly 80 percent of its products, but Semling acknowledged the potential is limited by cultural differences – for example, there is minimal demand for body scanners in the more sensitive Middle East.

In emerging markets, too, the technology is less in demand. “Countries where manpower is cheap prefer to develop body searching by hand rather than invest in technology,” he said.

Nevertheless, in the past five years, the market for airport security has enjoyed annual growth of between eight to 12 percent.

And in response to some analysts who doubt whether airports will install the body scanners, Semling said: “It is completely imaginable to sell them in private establishments.”

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