WHAT THE PAPERS SAY: BAA embroiled in surveillance row

Just days ahead of the opening of Heathrow's Terminal Five, airport operator BAA came under pressure over plans to fingerprint passengers to stop 'passenger switching'.

Following concerns from the campaign group Privacy International, the Information Commissioner's Office warned that it may breach the Data Protection Act and is another step 'on the road to a surveillance society' (The Times, 24 March).

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said: 'We are not aware of any published evidence indicating that passenger switching has become a security issue' (The Guardian, 24 March).

BAA defended its actions, saying that because T5 allows domestic and international passengers to mix, it was following Home Office guidelines for increased security, and that 'fingerprinting was selected as the most robust method' (bbc.co.uk, 23 March).

BAA added that it would allow passengers access to shops and restaurants in 'the largest retail space in London's aviatory hub', (Financial Times, 24 March).

Based on 22 items from 22-24 March 2008 Analysis conducted by Echo Research from data supplied to PRWeek from NewsNow.


"Heathrow to ban freedom in T5" announced a blog post that neatly summed up the blogosphere's anger at how (1) any commercial outfit can grant itself the right to take fingerprints and (2) how a Spanish-owned private company (BAA) can make such demands on UK soil.

Bloggers screamed the solution was so simple - an attendant at the gate simply checking the passport to confirm it's the same person who checked in!

Whilst the authorities behind the scheme acknowledge the tricky balance between security, privacy and convenience, it seems the man on the street is only concerned with privacy.

Unlike the papers, bloggers focused on circulating ideas from organisations like Privacy International and the Information Commissioner's Office on how to deal with Heathrow's "illegal actions". Make the system inoperable by sheer bloody mindedness was a common theme - telling passengers they should demand to know why fingerprints were being taken, what would be done with them and how long they'd be kept.

Bloggers took up the ‘Orwellian' theme to much greater lengths than the papers asking what's next - giving up DNA samples or even the first-born child. Many said it is a human right to remain private in the law with some circulating a quote from a homeless character in the recent BBC drama The Last Enemy - "It should be a human right to simply, disappear...remain anonymous."

Analysis conducted by Nielsen Online from a source of over 70 million blogs www.nielsen-online.com



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