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CANBERRA - Bollywood movie star Shah Rukh Khan appeared yesterday as the sum of all Australian airline passengers' fears.
Amid generic depictions of naked travellers and concerns from civil liberties and privacy advocates about new body scanners planned for the nation's airports, Khan appeared on news websites with a story to put anyone with a shred of modesty off flying.
The scanners will be part of a much wider network to closely examine passengers before they fly into the country, and as they arrive at border controls.
Khan gave an alarming description of his experience with the body scanners recently introduced at Britain's major airports, which show not only any non-metallic devices, objects and weapons on a person's body, but the most intimate regions as well.
Despite assurances that images would be destroyed immediately, Khan found female security officers lined up with uncensored copies of his scan.
"I was a little scared," he said. "I came out of the scanner and then I saw these girls and they had these printouts "So I looked at them [and] thought maybe it's a form you're supposed to sign. You could see everything inside, and then I've autographed them for them."
Australia has not yet announced the technology it will adopt when it starts installing body scanners for international travellers next year as part of a A$200 million ($243 million) boost to aviation security over the next four years.
But Transport Minister Anthony Albanese is already indicating the nation might opt for a less intrusive system, using a "stick figure" representation of travellers rather than the full exposure of the British scanners.
This uses a stylised outline to pinpoint the location of any illegal items hidden on a body.
He has promised consultation with the federal privacy watchdog, the Privacy Commissioner, and to act on public doubts.
"The Government understands the privacy concerns some travellers may have with body-scanning technologies and will implement appropriate privacy and facilitation measures to mitigate these concerns," he said.
Civil rights advocates have warned that increasingly tough measures - added to a raft of harsh counter-terrorism laws - are allowing authorities to look more closely and harder at Australians than ever before.