Heathrow to Fingerprint Domestic Passengers
Update: Privacy watchdogs ae pressuring BAA to explain why they even need to fingerprint passengers in the first place. It seems that the fundamental design flaw (for which the fingerprinting scheme is overcompensating) lies in the mixing of domestic and international lounges.
The Information Commissioner's Office warned airport operator BAA it may be in breach of the Data Protection Act.
Under the plans, prints will be checked at the gate to try to ensure
the person who checked in is the same as the person who is boarding the
BAA said the data was encrypted straight away and destroyed within 24 hours, in line with the act.
The investigation would not delay the opening for business of the £4.3bn terminal on Thursday, the airport operator added.
The move will allow domestic and international passengers to mingle in the terminal's departure lounge.
The idea behind the fingerprinting is to make it impossible for
a terrorist to arrive at Heathrow on a transit flight, then exchange
boarding passes with a colleague in the departure lounge and join a
domestic flight to enter the UK without being checked by immigration
But Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith told the Mail
on Sunday: "We want to know why Heathrow needs to fingerprint
passengers at all.
"Taking photographs is less intrusive. So far we have not heard BAA's case for requesting fingerprints.
"If we find there is a breach of data protection legislation, we would hope to persuade them to put things right.
"If that is not successful we can issue an enforcement notice.
If they don't comply, it is a criminal offence and they can be
When Heathrow's Terminal 5 opens, passengers will find themselves as the first in the world to be fingerprinted in order to board a domestic flight. This is what is known as "the slippery slope". The BAA seems to think that collecting data on domestic passengers will somehow compensate for shortcomings at border control; the difference between "domestic" and "international" appears lost. The BAA also does not acknowledge the innaccuracies of fingerprinting, which is an 18th-century technology.
For the first time at any airport, the biometric checks will apply to all domestic passengers leaving the terminal, which will handle all British Airways flights to and from Heathrow.
The controversial security measure is also set to be introduced at Gatwick, Manchester and Heathrow’s Terminal 1, and many airline industry insiders believe fingerprinting could become universal at all UK airports within a few years.
All four million domestic passengers who will pass through Terminal 5 annually after it opens on March 27 will have four fingerprints taken, as well as being photographed, when they check in.
To ensure the passenger boarding the aircraft is the same person, the fingerprinting process will be repeated just before they board the aircraft and the photograph will be compared with their face.
BAA, the company which owns Heathrow, insists the biometric information will be destroyed after 24 hours and will not be passed on to the police.
It says the move is necessary to prevent criminals, terrorists and illegal immigrants trying to bypass border controls.
If you want people to use your airport, this is how not to do it. London is also served domestically by Stansted, London City, Luton, and Gatwick, all just as easily accessed as Heathrow.
[Personally, I see no real-world benefit here; only the risk of data theft/loss/misuse for purposes of feel-good security theater]