The return of fingerprinting at ports

The Register is reporting that the UK Borders Agency is showing a renewed interest in fingerprinting passengers at ports and airports. The intention is apparently to introduce biometric checks in those areas where domestic and international passengers can mix – such as London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 – and then roll it out to some ports and the Channel Tunnel.

Earlier this year BAA suspended fingerprinting at Terminal 5 just before the opening. That system was reasonably privacy-friendly, but the new approach would appear to be destined for links into the various e-Borders watchlists, and that will certainly enrage privacy advocates. It also seems virtually impossible to enforce without a complete redesign of existing ferry port facilities – it would be even more chaotic otherwise.

This is another example of a system that may be justifiable for its purpose, but should not be built until we’ve resolved the legal issues around ownership of personal data. The Information Commissioner is reviewing the EU Data Protection Directive, and we should also have a complete reworking of the principles of data ownership so that as and when the scope of these biometric checks inevitably creeps, we have clearly defined legal boundaries to control what happens to it. In the meantime, we just have to press on with fingers crossed for a decent outcome.