Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fingerprint Security Checks At Heathrow Airport Terminal 5

It was announced over the weekend that mandatory security checks involving fingerprinting and photographs will be carried out at Heathrow's new Terminal 5 when it opens at the end of this month.

All British airline passengers using domestic flights from T5, which will be used exclusively by British Airways, will have to provide the biometric information when they check in.

Passengers will have four fingerprints taken at check-in, where they will also be photographed.

The fingerprint scanning process will be repeated airside, before passengers board the aircraft, and the photograph taken at check-in will be compared with their face.

As reported by Airport International at the start of February, passengers using Heathrow's Terminal 1 have been required to provide biometric data. However, that only applies to passengers using the international lounge in that terminal.

The T5 scheme is significant because it marks the first time a UK airport will be taking mandatory biometric data from passengers using domestic services.

The Daily Telegraph also reported the scheme could be introduced more widely, taking in domestic passengers at Heathrow's Terminal 1 as well as passengers using Gatwick and Manchester.

BAA: Biometric Data Collection 'Improves Heathrow Security'

Heathrow's operator, the British Airports Authority (BAA), says the biometric information will help security at Heathrow.

BAA explained that the design of T5 meant it was necessary the measures were introduced.

International and domestic passengers will use the same public areas after check-in, and BAA says this means potential criminals, terrorists and illegal immigrants arriving from other countries "could bypass border controls" and exchange boarding passes with domestic passengers who had already checked-in.

Potentially, BAA said, they could then board a domestic flight, where proof of identity is not required at the moment, fly on to UK airport and leave without having to go through passport control.

By introducing biometric data for passengers on internal flights, BAA said, this potential loophole could be closed, so boosting security.

BAA added that the security scheme was agreed after consultation with the Home Office.

The biometric data will be destroyed after 24 hours.

British Airways said they were "supportive" of the T5 biometric checks. A spokesman for the airline said: "we need to make sure the right people get on the right flights and this will definitely help us to ease check-in and boarding procedures".
Civil Liberties Groups Criticise Heathrow Fingerprinting

Civil liberties campaigners raised their concerns about the plans. They argued that outside agencies could access the data in the future.

Dr Gus Hosein, from the London School of Economics, a critic of biometric data collection, told the Sunday Telegraph: "BAA says the fingerprint data will be destroyed, but the records of who has travelled within the country will not be, and it will provide a rich source of data for the police and intelligence agencies".

Hosein added: "By doing this [taking biometric data] they will make innocent people feel like criminals".

BAA said the data is "purely for border control purposes" and would not be passed to any other agencies.

Civil liberties group Privacy International said they believe the biometric scheme is unecessarily expensive.

Simon Davies, a director of Privacy International, argued: "If they are photographing people anyway, why can't that be used as a means of identifying them, rather than taking biometric data? It would probably be 50 times more reliable at a 50th of the cost".

Source - Airport International's London Reporter

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