Body scanners such as the Rapiscan can be used to show items that may be hidden under clothing and have been approved for use at airports in the UK and many other countries.
There are strict rules to protect your privacy, so for example the security person who is checking the screen must not be able to see the person who is being scanned. You may also be able to request that the security person who looks at the scan is of the same sex. When the scan is finished and you move away from the scanner, the images of you are automatically deleted and cannot be restored.
You may have read articles in the press about being exposed to radiation in the scanners and be particularly concerned if you fly frequently. There are different types of scanners, but some of the latest types of equipment for screening passengers use very low dose X-rays.
Before the low dose X-ray scanners were introduced, their safety was checked by the Health Protection Agency (HPA). To put the issue in perspective, the radiation received from the scanning process is roughly equivalent to the natural ‘background’ radiation you receive during 2 minutes flying in an aircraft or one hour on the ground.
At some airports where whole body scanners are used, you may be able to ask for a hand search if you are unwilling to be scanned. This is likely to be more intrusive than the ‘pat down’ checks you may have experienced or seen when a passenger has triggered the arch metal detector – for example, you may be taken to a private room or cubicle and be asked to remove or loosen items of clothing.
There are some airports where you will not be allowed to travel if you refuse to be scanned. It is therefore advisable to check with your airline and the airports you will be passing through to see if they do allow an alternative check.