Manchester Airport has rejected claims its new body scanners will fall foul of child pornography laws, claiming that because they use X-rays "they do not make an image".
The machines use low doses of radiation to deliver a 3D black and white scan of volunteer passengers' bodies to a human operator sat in front of a screen. The scans reveal objects concealed underneath their clothes - including genitals.
The airport says the technology will improve and speed up security checks.
During the 12-month trial children will be scanned if their parents give consent. The policy has prompted the children's civil rights group Action on Rights for Children (ARCH) to write to bosses, insisting they will break the law.
Making an indecent image of a child is an offence under the Protection of Children Act - the fact Manchester Airport scans will not be stored is irrelevant in the eyes of the law.
ARCH has sought and been given government assurances during past trials that the scanners that can see under clothes will not be used on children.
"It's completely unlawful. Manchester Airport haven't got a leg to stand on," the group's spokeswoman Terri Dowty told The Register today.
There is a "prevention and detection of crime" exemption in the law, but legal precedent indicates, but "it isn't a license for a trawling exercise", said Dowty. Authorities would need a good reason to justify using such an exemption, she added.
ARCH has campaigned against the use of body scanners on children, arguing they are disproportionately intrusive and remove their right to dignity, particularly given many are sensitive about their bodies.
A spokesman for Manchester Airport said he wasn't yet aware of ARCH's letter of complaint, but argued the scans did not amount to an "image" in legal terms.
ARCH believes it has the beating of that argument, however. A provision of the Protection of Children Act specifically outlaws "pseudo-photographs".
Dowty said that if ARCH is not satisfied by Manchester Airport's response to its complaint, it will mount a legal challenge to stop the scanning of children.
The Department of Transport, which in 2006 said children would not be scanned during a trial of the same technology at Paddington train station, was not immediately available for comment. ®