Feeds

Bladerunner and biometrics: Heathrow T5 unveiled

No bag or being knowingly under-scanned

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

In an otherwise bleak time for Londoners, with foreign talent leaving the City in droves on account of the decreasingly favourable tax regime, Terminal 5 beams a ray of hope into our economy.

"It's all about transfer flights," a BAA guide informed me. "People have a choice about which airport to stop over in on their way to other destinations. We want them to pick London."

Therein lies the answer to our economic difficulties. While we might not be able to persuade rich foreign humans to move here, the more of them we can get into the departure lounge at Heathrow, the better.

The fabric of the building is woven with screens capable of morphing in the bat of an eyelid from information display boards to lucrative adverts. The lounge's showcase shops, cafes and restaurants provide visitors with a "wealth of delights" for those awaiting flights to feast on. And there's a small chance, with the turrets of Windsor Castle poking out of the distance through the floor-to-ceiling windows onto the outside world, that some foreign travellers might be tempted to find out more about their host.

Stitched up

That's also what we have to be careful of. And we are. The lack of physical segregation between domestic and international travellers (all will be equally free to consume at lengthy leisure) means there is a danger of those destined for foreign lands trying to sneak onto flights to exotic British destinations. Everyone knows how easy it is to pinch a facially similar passenger's boarding ticket and jump on a different flight these days. The building needs to be able to spot these impostors. That's why it takes fingerprints from those travelling around Britain. Any passengers attempting to jump on a flight to Aberdeen with an airline ticket to Bangkok will get snubbed by the gate. Or possibly worse.

Civil liberties campaigners worry that bio-data hungry police and security hawks will peck at this digital cache of biometric information, but BAA assured me that the building will wipe each passenger's details from its mind within 24 hours, and BAA doesn't anticipate receiving any access requests within that time period. No doubt the existence of this biometric verification structure and the likely acclimatisation of UK citizens to biometric checks will provide temporary reassurance to police officers. It might also explain the relative hostility shown by the police to budget airlines, who in Chief Constable Hogan-Howe's view, permit people to flee the country before the police have had an opportunity to accumulate sufficient evidence "to charge they are safe". The Home Office also approves of BAA's biometric advance.

But now the Information Commissioner has thrown a spanner in the works by urging passengers to only provide their prints "under protest". The Information Commissioner isn't satisfied that BAA has shown sufficient reason for requiring fingerprints. Doesn't the Information Commissioner realise that Britain has a reputation to protect? We are the Surveillance Society, and Terminal 5 is a "flagship of what the UK can do". If we can prove to the rest of the world that we are willing to provide our fingerprints without fuss, just think how many surveillance companies will invest in us! And how does the Information Commissioner expect Terminal 5 to deal with principled objections? It's been taught to treat human beings "like human beings", not dissenters.

Tomorrow the passengers arrive, we'll finally get to see how good Terminal 5 really is at communicating with, and controlling, a huge influx of human beings. ®

Amber Marks is a criminal lawyer and freelance writer. She is presently undertaking doctoral research into new surveillance technologies at King's College, London.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Doctor Who's Flatline: Cool monsters, yes, but utterly limp subplots
We know what the Doctor does, stop going on about it already
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
'Cowardly, venomous trolls' threatened with TWO-YEAR sentences for menacing posts
UK government: 'Taking a stand against a baying cyber-mob'
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Zippy one-liners, broken promises: Doctor Who on the Orient Express
Series finally hits stride, but Clara's U-turn is baffling
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.