Millions of British airline passengers face mandatory fingerprinting before being allowed to board domestic flights when Heathrow’s Terminal 5 opens later this month. 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. The company said the move had been necessitated by the design of Terminal 5, where international and domestic passengers share the same lounges and public areas after they have checked in.
Without the biometric checks, the company says, potential criminals and illegal immigrants arriving on international flights or in transit to another country could bypass border controls by swapping boarding passes with a domestic passenger who has
already checked in.
They could then board the domestic flight, where proof of identity is not currently required, fly on to another UK airport and leave without having to go through passport control.
Most other airports avoid the problem by keeping international and domestic passengers separate at all times, but the mixed lounges exist at Gatwick, Manchester and Heathrow’s Terminal 1.
Civil liberties campaigners have raised concerns about the possibility of security agencies trying to access the treasure trove of personal data in the future.
There are also fears that fingerprinting will add to the infamous "Heathrow hassle" which has led to some business travellers holding meetings in other countries because they want to avoid the sprawling, scruffy airport at any cost.
Dr Gus Hosein, of the London School of Economics, an expert on the impact on technology on civil liberties, is one of the scheme’s strongest critics. He said: There is no other country in the world that requires passengers travelling on internal
flights to be fingerprinted. 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.
Simon Davies, of campaign group Privacy International, suggested the photograph alone would be a perfectly adequate - and much cheaper - way of identifying passengers.