Heathrow Airport owner BAA is pulling a biometric fingerprint system at the new Terminal 5 (T5) the day before the building opens to the public, after the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) raised concerns about the system.
The system would have taken the fingerprints of all domestic passengers as they passed through the security gates, and was intended to prevent illegal immigration.
BAA said in a statement, "Following a meeting with all relevant parties, including the Information Commissioner and the Border and Immigration Agency, the introduction of fingerprinting for domestic passengers and passengers transferring onto domestic flights at Heathrow will be temporarily delayed."
In the meantime, BAA will open Heathrow T5 and use a photographic identification system, which is already in place. The company said, "We will be working closely with the ICO and the Home Office over the next few weeks to agree the best approach going forward."
The ICO raised concerns in a statement earlier this week about the data protection implications of the proposed biometrics system. A spokeswoman for the ICO said the office was investigating to see if any changes could be made to the system to make it acceptable, or whether it would have to be scrapped permanently.
The ICO said, "The Information Commissioner’s Office has contacted BAA about plans to fingerprint passengers at Heathrow Terminal 5. We have concerns about the routine collection of fingerprint information from passengers and we will require reassurance from BAA that the data protection implications of the proposals have been fully addressed. We will be weighing up the security benefits of the scheme against the impact on privacy and asking what other, less intrusive alternatives have been considered.
"As organisations collect more and more personal data the greater the potential risks to individuals. It is essential that before introducing new systems and technologies, which could accelerate the growth of a surveillance society, full consideration is given to minimising the impact on privacy and that data protection safeguards are in place to limit any risks."
See also: Toby Stevens' blog entry "The cost of privacy: biometrics at London Heathrow T5"