Transport security measures - attitudes and acceptability: Canary Wharf station
|Publisher:||Department for Transport|
|Publication type:||Research report|
|Published date:||24 June 2008|
|Mode/topic:||Rail, Security and resilience|
After the bombings that took place on the London transport system on 7th July 2005, the Department for Transport (DfT) tested potential options for new transport security measures for the rail and London Underground networks. One new approach to security screening on the transport system was trialled at Canary Wharf London Underground station over a period of four weeks. The trial started in May 2006 and finished in June 2006.
During the trial, passengers were selected at random on entering Canary Wharf London Underground station and asked whether they would participate in the security trial. After entering the screening facility inside the station, each selected passenger was asked to press their index finger on a metal pad on a piece of trace detection equipment (the ‘finger swabber’). The equipment was then used to examine chemicals and oils taken from the passenger’s fingertip for any traces of explosive. Some passengers were also asked to provide an item from which screening staff could take a further sample; such as a travel ticket, Oyster card, wallet or mobile phone. The passenger’s item was rubbed over a small fabric pad that the equipment (the ‘item scanner’) then examined for traces of explosive. Passenger baggage was put through a separate x-ray machine and the contents examined by trained operators. Passengers selected for screening had the right to refuse to participate in the trial.
This research follows on from qualitative research that investigated attitudes to a security trial piloted at the Heathrow Express (HEX) platforms at Paddington National Rail station in mid January through to early February 2006.
The overarching aim of the research was to assess public responses to the process of security screening. The specific objectives were three-fold and were to:
- explore the public’s views of security screening, with particular reference to the trial as operated at Canary Wharf;
- investigate people’s reasons for finding security screening acceptable or unacceptable;
- explore under what circumstances security screening is seen as acceptable, if at all.
Sixteen depth interviews were conducted with respondents who agreed to the security screening. In addition, four depth interviews were conducted with Asian or Muslim women who were 60 years old and over who had not been screened. Four interviews were also conducted with respondents who defined themselves as being disabled in relation to set criteria.
The sample was structured to ensure coverage of the key sub-groups within the target population, in order to identify and explain variations in the nature of experiences and views between them. Quotas were set to ensure the inclusion of participants of different backgrounds according to the following key variables: gender; age; ethnicity; religion; regularity of London Underground use; and disability. Twenty-four respondents were interviewed in total.
Group discussions were carried out among people who had not participated in the security screening trial. As with the sampling of the depth interviews, quotas were set to ensure the inclusion of participants of a variety of backgrounds: gender; age; ethnicity; religion; and regularity of London Underground use. Eleven group discussions were carried out in total and consisted of between four and six respondents.
Initial impressions of the screening equipment and procedure
- There were respondents who had no awareness of the trial, and therefore did not know what to expect from the screening equipment.
- Those that knew of the trial were generally unaware of what was actually involved and had anticipated equipment similar to those used at airports for scanning baggage and for detecting metal objects people might be carrying.
- A range of views were expressed after respondents had seen the equipment, with respondents considering it to be familiar, sophisticated and yet, by contrast, inadequate for the purpose they perceived it was being used for.
Experiences of screened respondents
- Respondents generally thought they had been selected because of their appearance. Selection was therefore thought to be due to: the respondent’s ethnicity; the respondent appearing suspicious to staff; and the fulfilment of a selection quota.
- Generally, respondents had no concerns with being selected for screening and described how they had been pleased to participate in the trial. However, selection for the trial was not necessarily responded to so positively. Being selected for screening was the cause of embarrassment for Asian respondents in particular, who questioned why they had been selected.
- The information given to respondents regarding the screening seemed to vary and as a result, so did their understanding of what was happening during the process. There were respondents who assumed that the finger swabber had taken their fingerprint and they appeared similarly confused regarding the item scanner. Respondents questioned whether personal details, such as their name and address, had been derived from their Oyster card and that this information could be used in conjunction with the fingerprint to check and verify their identity.
- Respondents recalled that the length of time taken to conduct the screening was up to five minutes; this was largely seen as satisfactory. However, the length of time was deemed less acceptable when respondents imagined the screening taking place during rush hour.
- Respondents generally required more information on the trial. This centred on four areas: what the equipment was screening for; what it detected; the selection process; and the implementation of the equipment. This is a key issue as an increased level of understanding might have a positive impact on public acceptance of the equipment.
- Respondents, particularly in the younger age groups, were generally suspicious that the finger swabber would take their fingerprint as part of the scan and as such felt that this piece of trace detection equipment invaded their privacy.
- Similarly, there were respondents who thought their Oyster card had been used to obtain details, such as their name and address.
- It was generally felt that other travellers using the station would be able to see who was being screened inside the enclosed screening facility. This was considered problematic, particularly by Black and Asian respondents who had not undergone the screening.
- White respondents and those of mixed ethnicity who were in the older age groups voiced less concern regarding potential breaches of privacy. They were of the view that it was acceptable to sacrifice a degree of privacy in order to enhance security.
The selection process
- Respondents, particularly those who were young and Asian or Muslim, were suspicious of the concept of random selection as they felt that those staffing the equipment could act on their own prejudices during selection.
- Therefore respondents ideally felt that screening should be compulsory for all as this ought to prevent people from feeling ‘singled out’.
- Whilst generally respondents thought that everyone should be screened, it was widely felt that, if used by all commuters of the station where the equipment was situated, the scanner would cause huge delays due to the perceived queuing involved. It was felt that delays to one’s journey would be ultimately unacceptable.
- However, there were respondents who were of the view that such delays were necessary for increased security and therefore had to be accepted.
The role of the British Transport Police (BTP)
- Respondents considered the role of BTP officers to be one of protection. Due to this perception, there were respondents who felt that the police presence was reassuring, particularly White respondents and also those over the age of 60 of a range of ethnicities.
- However, the BTP were a cause of concern for Muslim and Asian respondents under 60 in particular, who found the officers’ behaviour intimidating and thought their involvement should be as limited as possible.
Health and safety concerns
- The screening equipment was widely considered to pose no health risk to those using it in terms of the technology used.
- However, misunderstandings had occurred amongst respondents who had not participated in the trial who thought they would be being subjected to x-rays if they took part.
- There were also respondents who expressed concern regarding the levels of cleanliness maintained on the equipment, particularly the finger scanner.
The possibility of security equipment being introduced on respondents’ other journeys
- Respondents generally described how they would feel reassured if such equipment was being used on the journeys they undertook. However, this would only be the case if screening was compulsory for all; otherwise the process was felt be ineffectual due to the potential for not screening those intending to cause harm.
- Yet in contrast to this, there were respondents that would feel reassured irrespective of whether everyone was screened or not, as random selection was thought to be preferable to no screening taking place at all.
- However, regardless of any feelings of reassurance, those particularly opposed to the screening equipment on their journeys stated that they might use another route to reach their destination if faced with the equipment in order to avoid potential delays.
- Another tactic that respondents considered adopting if the equipment was to be used longer term on their regular journeys was setting off on their journey five to ten minutes earlier than usual. However, there were respondents who would reserve this change in travel behaviour only if they had to be at their destination at a fixed time.
- Respondents’ acceptance of the equipment on their own journeys varied according to the purpose of their journey. It was widely thought that being screened would be frustrating if it had to be used as part of a daily commute or on the way to a scheduled meeting. In contrast, being stopped for screening would be less problematic if the purpose of the journey was leisure based.
- It was widely felt that the screening equipment would be most usefully situated at London Underground stations in central London as these stations were considered to be at a greater risk of terrorism.
- Whilst the busier stations were seen as priority sites for the equipment, respondents ventured that ideally, the equipment should be situated at all London Underground stations in order to be effective. It was felt that if the equipment were to be situated only at specific stations, then terrorists would simply avoid those stations.
Suggestions for changes and improvements to transport security measures
- Respondents thought that to be effective, screening equipment should be in place throughout public transport systems, and should be compulsory for all passengers; this would avoid the problems seen as inherent to selecting passengers at random.
- To enable fast and efficient scanning respondents suggested that scanning equipment could be incorporated into ticket barriers so that passengers would not experience delays to their journeys. It would also normalise the process so that passengers would expect to be scanned as part of their everyday journey.
- Suggestions were also made for alternative security measures. They included: combined bag screening and body scanning; use of mobile screening units; greater police presence; greater use of CCTV; screening body language; and sniffer dogs.
- As with the HEX trial, there were concerns over the selection procedure adopted for the trial at Canary Wharf, with Black and minority ethnic groups in particular not believing it to be random but that personal characteristics were being used to single people out.
- Random selection was also considered to render the equipment ineffective due to fears over terrorists finding it easy to bypass the current selection approach.
- Worries over the selection process led people to suggest that everyone should be screened. Concerns regarding selection and journey delays therefore created a conflict of interest, which respondents felt could not be resolved with the screening equipment as it was. Respondents therefore felt that the equipment would have to be developed in order to remedy the perceived problems regarding delays caused by compulsory screening.
- It was apparent that various misconceptions could be held if people were not provided with clear explanations about the equipment. Comments made by respondents suggested inconsistencies in the level and type of information communicated and this had led to misunderstandings.
- An example of a misconception that caused a great deal of concern was the belief that both types of trace detection equipment – that used for swabbing fingers and that for personal items – were collecting data from individuals for storage on a database, such as personal details like names and addresses from Oyster cards and fingerprints. There was also the concern that the details derived from scanning the Oyster card could be used in conjunction with the fingerprint in order to check and verify passengers’ identities. This misunderstanding of what the technology could do influenced respondents’ views on the acceptability of the equipment on the basis of civil liberties .
- Respondents made a variety of suggestions for how the security equipment trialled in the station could be rolled out. One idea was to focus the security screening on busy stations and to reduce delays by having more than one screening site in use per station.
- However, it was also suggested that whilst terrorists may plan to attack well-populated stations they may not enter the system at the site they plan to target. This led to a suggestion that smaller stations ought to be included in any screening programme.