Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fingerprinting At Heathrow. Or Not.

With the opening of Heathrow's Terminal Five, BAA were trying to introduce the compulsory fingerprinting of every single domestic passenger who entered the lounge. They claim that this was to stop someone - presumably a wannabe terrorist - from flying through the airport on an international stop-over and swapping tickets with someone on an internal flight, thereby avoiding some levels of security check.

Let's just ignore the improbability of that for a moment and ask why Heathrow (and other UK airports*) mixes domestic and international passengers at all if there is any chance of a security risk. Well, funnily enough it's to extract money from them for the least possible outlay of cash. Have one shopping area and make sure all passengers have to pass by it, then reap the rewards of making people turn up to an airport three hours before a flight and not let them take any open liquid (or more than 100ml of any other liquid) through the security checks.

The usual method of ensuring that the passengers are who they claim to be isn't the obvious "check the name on the ticket matches the name on the photo ID they need to show before getting on the plane", but by use of CCTV cameras taking a photo of each passenger when they enter the terminal. The passenger then gets a card with a barcode on it, and this barcode is scanned as they leave the terminal and the photo compared to make sure it's still them. While I think this is an over the top way of doing it, the Information Commissioner considers it reasonable.

The IC doesn't consider the taking of fingerprints to be at all reasonable however and BAA have had to delay the start of their biometric checking while the arguments between them go back & forth. BAA do insist that they will take fingerprints in the future though, despite the protestations of the IC and various civil liberty groups.

Note, this is for internal travel within the UK. Where you live and pay taxes. Not for going overseas. This is a separate system to that employed for flights to the US or Japan. Although it would obviously be easy to link the system so that the US gets a nice collection of fingerprints for everyone who travels in the UK by plane via Heathrow Terminal 5.

BAA insist that the data is encrypted and destroyed after 24hours. Which could be entertaining if you get to the airport 24hours before your flight leaves - or your flight is delayed or cancelled due to bad weather, for example - as there'd be no corresponding data showing you are who you were when you arrived.

Not that you'd really want to travel through there anyway, seeing as there's been glitches on their first day. Not an auspicious start to the "building site with its own airport".

* On a recent flight from Newcastle to London Gatwick, I was horrified to discover - only when we landed mind, not before we took off so that I could have decided to travel by another method - that photos were taken so you could be compared at a point three hundred yards down the corridor. There's no mention of this on Gatwick's website, so I'm not sure it's entirely legal.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

eXTReMe Tracker