Fingerprints at Heathrow

Has anyone else seen this?

Millions of British airline passengers face mandatory fingerprinting before being allowed to board flights when Heathrow’s Terminal 5 opens later this month.


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.

The reason given is that the lounge is shared between local and international passengers. I for one will refuse to fly BA through Heathrow.

But there\’s something else which I hope one of our resident security peeps will be able to tell me. How accurate are fingerprints? How many false positives and false negatives are we going to have out of 4 million domestic passengers: and presumably tens of millions of international ones?



2 thoughts on “Fingerprints at Heathrow”

  1. I bow to no-one in civil liberties paranoia, but this isn’t as bad as people think. The fingerprints are used for verification, not identification (i.e. your boarding pass identifies who you are, and your fingerprints are used to verify that). Fingerprints used in this mode meet the required accuracy.

    The fingerprints are supposed to be deleted after the flight leaves, and I assume it won’t be a full ten fingers, since that isn’t necessary for verification. I don’t think this gives the authorities any more information than they already have anyway.

    I should also add that they’ve been running a photograph-based system at Manchester for several years. That wasn’t mandatory: being a bolshy type I asked for details about this while passengers behind me sighed, and I was told I could wait in a non-shopping lounge if I didn’t consent to be photographed. I had read that the Heathrow system will be similarly non-compulsory.

  2. This actually appears to be a downscaled and repurposed version of the original blueprint. That envisaged a ‘secure lounge’ system that counted them all in and counted them all out, and that would apply to everyone. One of the main ostensible justifications for this was in order to know where passengers were; kind of balderdash, given that you know it from the entry scan of the boarding pass anyway.

    The ‘new’ justification is to do with possible scams involving transfer passengers, where it was apparently possible to arrive in Heathrow on a transfer ticket, and then to just slip into the domestic area, thus arriving in the UK without passing control. Or something similar – I haven’t yet seen what’s going on, and I don’t think what the press office tells me is necessarily kosher.

    The prints themselves are probably not terribly relevant. Set your parameters right and you shouldn’t be overly troubled by false refusals, and as they’re not looking for suspects with this system, failure to recognise wanted individuals won’t be an issue. Plus, as they’re also using photos, they’ve got an exit route that will keep things flowing when the system goes titsup.

    They claim they’re binning the prints at close of play every day, and while I don’t necessarily trust them on that either, there probably isn’t a great deal useful that they could do with the data even if they kept it. They wouldn’t be matching like with like, they’d have false positives all over the shop, and they’d have no bloody idea where the thousands of ‘suspects’ had gone anyway.

    Probably harmless, but a load of stupid mularky anyway.

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