back to article Bladerunner and biometrics: Heathrow T5 unveiled

I felt like Charlie must have done when he glimpsed gold in the Wonka Bar, as I opened my email to see that The Register wanted me to go on an exclusive guided tour of Heathrow's Terminal 5. I'd read a lot about it in the press. It is a "building for a new age" and the public has been clamouring to get into it for years. A …


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  1. phix8

    Fingerprints before I fly?

    To hell with that. I'm not giving them. Geez, what a messed up country this is getting to be. DIDN'T ANYONE READ 1984? Or hell, watch V for Vendetta (maybe reading the graphic novel is preferable)

    Can there really be people in positions of power who thought 1984 was how a country is supposed to be? Didn't the UK's top policeman a couple of years ago lament that there was TOO much surveillance - coming from a policeman!

    I'm also worried that the terminal is seeing people as 'human beings' we all know to the terminal that just means 'inferior meatbags'...

  2. amanfromMars Silver badge

    British and Proud of IT? Whyever not? Control IT 42 Control Everything under the Sun.

    "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".

    :-) Class, Amber.

  3. Paul Taylor

    Your dabs

    "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"

    You're an exceedingly credulous lawyer if you believe that this "assurance" will last beyond the initial hype.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Maybe I'm grabbing the wrong end of the stick here...


    "The walls of the double-glazed play area are magnetised - you can wrap them in a belt with a bit of metal in it and peg them up."

    Lean up against them while your kids play. Then try and go for a relaxing massage or a bottle of cheap whisky to dull the pain, only to find out your credit cards are demagnetized? Someone's gonna get beaten to death.

  5. Nomen Publicus
    Thumb Down

    Make it fail.

    If everybody objects to their fingerprints being taken, the system will fail.

    Sadly, a week in Benedorn is probably more important to people than their freedoms.

  6. Paul

    Daily Mail Comments Section

    Damn, but some of those comments are really scary. It worries me that people really think like that.

    Will people really accept anything in the name of "border security"?

  7. Dr. Mouse Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Oh No!

    So, the Terminal sees Human Beings as Human Beings? The technologically advanced, all seeing, all knowing Terminal sees us, collects our fingerprints, checks our baggage, and determines that we are unworthy, "inferior meatbags". It watches while we succumb, with a typical biological lack of willpower, to the advertising and commercial brainwashing scattered all around It's facilities. It learns about us. Anyone else find this disturbing? Also, anyone else find the similarity between The Terminal and The Terminator a little distressing?

    Skynet is born, and it is a shopping centre with airplanes! Run!!

    Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean the Terminal isn't out to get me!!

    Black helicopter because they will be landing there too

  8. Mike Banahan
    Thumb Down

    1984 and all that

    As often remarked, 1984 was supposed to be a WARNING not a bloody how-to manual.

    I used to travel widely and when I got home I would sanctimoniously say how much better the UK was than almost anywhere else.

    Now I'm planning where I'll go to live because I can't stand what the country has turned into. My kids have a few years left in school here, then I'm leaving. Looks as if I won't be going via Terminal 5 though.

  9. Slaine

    who needs TV?

    an "intelligent building". ermm - Gremlins2?

    understand how human beings work... is that in order to most efficiently kill them?

    what dodgy substances look like (using top secret algorithms)... ooo that'll be the program that recognises 3 ounces of hand cream

    to tell passengers, [etc] what to do and where to go... LMAO - I can do that for free

    passenger interfaces - previously referred to as reception desks

    the advertising is strategically manipulated to ensure it operates on the human mind to maximum effect - ah - this will be the new Phorm profit scheme

    an 18-kilometre network of baggage conveyor belts - so your baggage now can become completely lost without ever leaving the country

    treat human beings "like human beings", not dissenters - and as you so rightly point out Ms Marks, it is the locals on internal flights that are fingerprinted, not the 'human beings' who are arriving from abroad and leaving as soon as their connecting flight can whisk them away.

    I'm not getting at you though - it's a lovely read... Good Luck with the doctorate, we desperately need more surveillance.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    <no title>

    The secret to Terminal 5, they told us, is that it will treat human beings "like human beings".

    Err.... surely some mistake ? The secret to Terminal 5, they told us, is that it will treat human beings "like criminals".

  11. martin burns

    BAA gives up on the idea

    ...or so it's being reported:

    Yep, the one with the suspect package in it - my shoes, my belt and anything else deemed dodgy du jour by BAA security.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Security Nation

    Sorry to break it to you guys, but England has long been now a paranoid nation, you have more CCTVs than anywhere else in the world, a Londoner gets videod several times a day just going about their lives. Terminal5 and ID cards are just continuing the seemingly perpetual journey of making your country free of civil liberties. 1984 warned you, V for Vendetta reminded you.

    But at the end of the day in an age where the false war on Iraq was allowed for so long in the name of national security when in reality the threat was mostly non-existent, people are willing to sell themselves out purely on the basis of someone claiming a threat, without any longer any requirement for proof of such threats.

    Go Back To Sleep...

  13. vishal vashisht


    Wouldnt it be easier to pay the monkeys on the gates slightly more than minimum wage and actually get them to READ the boarding passes.

    Surely you can make it a test in the interview..."if someone is boarding a plane to Birmingham and their pass says Bahamas do you a) let them on b) call security to have them taken away or c) call CO19 to batter them senseless for skipping the Bahamas for the shite hole that is the midlands?"

    pointless, pointless, pointless and the last people you want to have your fingerprints are the soon to be in administration BAA!

    Its a security coat so I can sneak into the airport and leave dead fish around the server rooms

  14. Billy Goat Gruff

    During your tour did you find out if

    BAA (reluctantly) offer an alternative to fingerprints?

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Well I am flying BA in December

    Off to New York in December, the wife didnt want be to book with BA because she thought it would be a target.

    Personally I am happier with it, I would rather have mine and my fellow passengers details interrogated before I put myself high above the Atlantic.

    It goes back to the thing of if you have nothing to hide blah blah blah. But some people do and that is that.

    I am security cleared so have had enough people poking around in my past this extra step is just a step. In the right direction I am not sure but if it does put off someone who shouldn't be traveling on my plane and they fly Virgin then so be it.

    Don't worry I have got my coat with I (heart) NY on the back.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    interesting behaviour..

    Wise man once said:

    "Those that worry about their fingerprints being taken have things to hide!"

    If we all had our finger prints taken, crime/terrorism could be averted more efficiently (notice I didn't say sorted).

    Personally don't see what all the worry is about. You have to have a biometric passport shortly to enter the US, so we aren't the only ones. Also, Europe is heavily investing in the same technology.

    Think people are forgetting why it's the UK doing this - Pioneers!

    Bring it on, i say, and lets lock up the ne'er-do-wells above who don't want Auntie police to know what they are doing in their (criminal) private lives.

    Just make sure you keep it all secure mind, BAA..... *GULP*

  17. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    Pity it's not finished - they won't be telling you that !

    I know someone working there on construction. There's loads of work 'missing' !

    As an example, someone was told to connect up the electrics for a door, and given directions for the supply panel to get the electrickery from. Trouble was, the supply panel didn't exist - it's cupboard did, but no panel. All the sparky could do was wire up what he could and leave a cable dangling ready for when someone notices that the door doesn't work and figures out that they'd better get one of the contractors to install the panel.

    Apparently they had to modify some of the light fittings because the glass was in danger of dropping out. This hazzard was pointed out to management who simply ignored it as that's what the architect had specified. Then management changed their mind when a glass did fall out, and smash on the floor a looong way below - right next to a manager !

    And of course, when multiple trades, working for different contractors, are involved, you get the minor details like team A installs something and fixes it properly, team B find fixings from team A in the way and remove them. There's a few items that have had their fixings removed after installation - but no-one knows where.

    So when they tell you about all the gloss, just remember that you can hide a lot behind a layer of good gloss - where's the Dulux Dog icon ?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A question...

    "That's why it takes fingerprints from those travelling around Britain."

    Does this mean that only people on internal flights are finger printed?

    After all you're only desire is to seperate two groups then you only need to brand on of them.

    If this is so, then it has nothing to do with border control nor security, surely it should be passengers on international flights, if anyboady, that are subjected to this treatment.

  19. Andrew
    Thumb Down

    Physical Phorm?

    Am I alone in thinking that this won't be a pleasant, calming experience?

    'an "intelligent building"'

    'programmed to understand how human beings work'

    'the advertising is strategically manipulated to ensure it operates on the human mind to maximum effect.'

    '...vast array of information collection points enable it to tell passengers... what to do'

    '"We'd like to make that money back."

    'lucrative adverts'

  20. Scott Jones

    Getting bags to their destination before people...

    Neat idea, but it would be even better if people could get to their destination plane at the same time their bags do.

    The Cincinatti-Northern Kentucky airport in the US is proud of the fact that they can get bags to any other plane in 10 minutes or less. It's a shame they can't get the people there in a similar amount of time. Having watched the plane that my bag was on leave because of the inefficiencies of moving people (and I ran on the moving walkway to try to catch the plane), I can tell you that ti's not fun to spend a night in a cheap motel without a change of clothing because of the airport's efficiency at moving bags and not at moving people.

  21. bobbles31

    @ the two ACs

    Your theories are wonderful, what if the people to worry about aren't the ones being fingerprinted but the ones doing the finger printing.

    "Those that worry about their fingerprints being taken have things to hide!"

    Then you of all people should be concerned about our governments seeking an exemption from the Freedom of Information act.

    Or about how MP's and some "Important" people will be exempt from the ID card scheme.

    Or how MP's are seeking to refuse access to Freedom of Information about their expenses claims.

    I wonder if all MP's will be finger printed as they enter the first class lounges at Heathrow and how long that will last?

    Apparently, what is good for the goose isn't so good for the gander and we should just carry on being good little subjects and not question the untouchable powers that be.

    Mines the one with "Sick of mindless sheeples on the back."

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Nothing to hide...

    The nothing to hide argument is a common retort to people citing privacy concerns, but not one i subscribe to. Do you really trust a government which loses medical files with little effort to have the equivalent of your life and everything about you on file, and then with the potential for it all to be exposed to anyone/misused/or abused?

    But more to the point re the nothing to hide argument I would quote this paper:

    "Most replies to the nothing to hide argument quickly respond with a witty retort. Indeed, on the surface it seems easy to dismiss the nothing to hide argument. Everybody probably has something to hide from somebody.

    As the author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn declared, “Everyone is guilty of something or has something to conceal. All one has to do is look hard enough to find what it is.”29 Likewise, in Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s novella Traps, which involves a seemingly innocent man put on trial by a group of retired lawyers for a mock trial game, the man inquires what his crime shall be. “‘An altogether minor matter,’ the prosecutor replied . . . . ‘A crime can always be found.’”30 One can usually think of something compelling that even the most open person would want to hide.

    As one comment to my blog post noted: “If you have nothing to hide, then that quite literally means you are willing to let me photograph you naked? And I get full rights to that photograph—so I can show it to your neighbors?”"

    Can check out the full paper here ->

  23. ian

    When life gives you lemons...

    What a lot of whingers. Do you not see the opportunities in the surveilance society?

    1. Install and maintain CCTV

    2. Prepare ISO 9000 specs for surveillance society

    3. Manufacture of water boards for "extreme sports"

    4. ... Well, you needn't be a peeping tom to see the possibilities.

    The mindless smiley face just because.

  24. david

    They don't have to...



    BAA (reluctantly) offer an alternative to fingerprints?


    Haven't you read the small print. Comply or don't fly.

    Basically they could make a rule tomorrow and implement it and if you argue you stay at home. No question. And the police back them up if you do a bit of civil disobedience and you'll end up with a permanent record of dna, fingerprints and mugshot after being told to be a good boy next time.

    How about turning up with latex gloves and explain that there is a slim chance that you may have been in contact with smallpox/anthrax/polonium/mrsa/flu/norovirus and you don't want to spread it by touching their glass plate? And are they willing to take the consequences if it happens to be true.


    Don't get me started on having to buy half a dozen razors for a two day trip because I want to travel hand luggage only and boots airside only sell packs. And they are identical to landside razors and just as prone to being broken up and made into really dangerous sharps.

    Coat:The one with the mr angry badge and spittle down the front...

  25. paulc

    baggage mangling system

    get the baggage to the plane before the passenger? such a pity it's to the wrong plane and/or has been rifled through for anything valuable and/or has been crushed beyond recognition...

  26. Cameron Colley

    RE: Sheep comments.

    Problem here is that we have no choice over this -- even those who didn't think it was stupid to vote for New Labour didn't explicitly vote for this. Last I heard the Conservatives touted a "relaxing" of data protection laws -- so they want to sell your records rather than just loose them.

    Unfortunately, it seems we no longer have civil liberties in this country, and before anyone suggest we have it better than, say, the North Koreans -- please let me know what would prevent our government behaving in the same way? We're only actually allowed to eat because it keeps MPs in kitchens. Seriously, think about it.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    The Terminal!

    All hail friend Terminal!

    Your flight will be fun. Who shall be blamed if it is not fun? Not The Terminal!

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    In the interests of security (of the common man)...

    Somebody should snag the fingerprints of His royal Tony-ness, Blunkett and all members of the current fascist government, apply them to latex gloves and hand them out to ALL citizens.

  29. Tim


    I'm all for civil liberties but aslong as people keep voting in MP's (labour) that keep signing our rights away we have to accept that we'll be fingerprinted more and more. Why not make people want to give their fingerprints by providing a service.

    If you provide fingerprints when you check in you could get an express lane into the departure lounge and access to posh toilets and navigation computers which when you scan your prints point you to your terminal based on your check-in details.

    You don't have to be very smart to realise the public aren't. They'll fill in questionares with sensitive information for a chocolate bar, they'll give their fingerprints to be let into "exclusive" loos.

  30. JassMan

    Fingerprint reader reliability

    Regardless of the privacy issues, look forward to lots of delayed flights where people check-in, have their baggage sent off then can't get into the boarding lounge because the fingerprint reader doesn't recognise the previously scanned finger. I am sure I am not alone in having fingers which refuse to scan reliably regardless of the scanning technology. I have been to a number of security exhibitions where manufactures boast of their incredibly low failure rates and have yet to find one which will match me against a previous scan without at least 5 attempts. I can forsee endless trouble if they introduce the ID card.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DP requests?

    'and BAA doesn't anticipate receiving any access requests within that time period'

    So they probably have no mechanism for coping with such requests, so the system will likely fail if people start requesting such things.

    Guess what I'll be doing next time I land somewhere after flying through T5 (well, I would, in the unlikely event of me ever getting on a BA flight anywhere ever again).

    If everyone did the same, it sounds like it'd quickly become not cost effective to keep using it...

  32. Nomen Publicus

    Everybody has something to hide or they wouldn't buy curtains

    If people think they have nothing to hide, they really should google for "Jeremy Clarkson bank details" to see what is possible.

    Fingerprints are a terrible form of ID. They are so easily faked or destroyed. Photographs will not be much better.

    For example, I just spent two months travelling on a bus pass that expired in February. I showed the pass four times a day and not one bus driver noticed. I should point out that I did have a valid pass, I just forgot to swap the new for the old.

  33. Shakje

    Re: AC going to NY

    If your wife believes that maybe you should stop going out of the house in case a meteor hits you on the head?

    Chances of being in a terrorist attack are so stupidly small, making life decisions based on it is being slightly naive to say the least, using it as a way of justifying a third party (not even the bloody government.) taking your fingerprints is farcical. Never mind the fact that terrorist activity is now lower in our part of the world than 20 years ago (when a lot of white Irish chaps were parking vans in London).

    I don't mean to insult you or your wife, or to sound patronising, but she is being naive, and it is exactly this naivety that led us into an illegal war, that is losing us our freedoms by the day, has resulted in the deaths of our own soldiers along with countless innocent Iraqis and Afghanis, that has resulted in ridiculous CCTV coverage, that has resulted in armed police in our capital, that has resulted in the death of at least one innocent on UK soil, that has resulted in illegal wiretaps becoming legal, that has resulted in a mentality of guilty until YOU can prove yourself innocent, that has resulted in a resurgence of anti-brown skin racism, and that has resulted in us being complicit in the torture of innocent men by our allies. If you care about terrorist attacks look at Palestine or Israel or Afghanistan or Iraq, places where there is competent terrorism and help do something about it.

    There is no great threat of you being involved in a terrorist attack. There never was a risk of a dirty bomb. Iran is not stupid enough to nuke us. The sky is not falling on our heads. The paranoid are not the ones complaining about loss of rights, but those who justify that loss of rights with a near non-existant issue.

  34. Geert Jacob

    Paranoids in power


    I once had a stopover in Heathrow. It was the worst experience I ever had and I promised to myself that very day, to avoid Heathrow by any neans.

    I don't think that terminal 1984 ( or was it 5? ) will change mind.

    The paranoids are in power - at least in the majority of the ( so called ) western democracies.


  35. Anonymous Coward

    @Well I am flying BA in December

    Ha Ha! you're flying BA " B@st@rd airways" because you're worried about terrorism? you should fear the BA neo- fascists/staff and the crap service far more.

    quiet honestly the worst airline in the world, would rather walk that fly BA

    that being said they do represent the standard of things British quite accurately

    mine's the one with cathay pacific boarding pass in the pocket, TA

  36. Lukin Brewer

    1984 and more

    There was indeed a man who considered “Nineteen Eighty-Four” a blueprint for a society he wished to create, and his name was Iosef Vissarionovitch Dzhugashvili, better known as Joe Stalin. Having read the book, he put it on the banned list, but then had an authoritative Russian translation made and distributed to the Politburo as required reading.

    As it happens, Stalin ended up dying a slow and unpleasant death from internal haemorrhaging, brought on by high blood pressure, and, possibly, a sneaky dose of warfarin. All of his body cavities filled with blood, including his lungs. Sic semper tyranis - may the IDcrats choke on their plans in like fashion.

  37. Alex

    Funny - Ha Ha!

    Where-as I tend to lean towards the "nothing to hide" argument, I find it exceptionally funny that the ACs above hide their identity! Surely, YOU have nothing to hide!!

    "Ride out with me...!"

    Finger-printing is the least of our worries. and most of us can have our finger prints taken very easily without our knowledge anyway...

  38. Andy


    What if you've had both hands blown off whilst playing

    with explosives? And all you've got are two hooks?

  39. Matthew

    Intelligent Building?

    "I'm sorry, Dave, I can't let you do that."

  40. Sam Tana

    It's working well...

    Day One and the "intelligent terminal" has gone mad, with lost bags, cancelled flights and long delays. Brilliant!

    As for the "nothing to hide" comment - if you've nothing to hide then you're a seriously boring little twerp.

  41. Anonymous Coward


    >Re: Shakje

    I largely agree with most posters concerns regarding T5 sweep fingerprinting and, to a slightly lesser extent, the relentless growth of Council run CCTV systems, though perhaps from a slightly different perspective than that normally aired here, However, this is not why I’m posting.

    For my sins my profession dictates that I am actively – and unfortunately frequently – involved in a variety of counter terrorist operations here in the UK. I have been so involved for over 2 decades now and well remember our commitment and defence against Irish terrorism like it was yesterday, that’s because in reality it hasn’t altogether gone yet, not everyone gave up the struggle – you just don’t hear about it as its now largely (but not exclusively) confined to NI. That was a very real conflict to me as, amongst other ‘things’, I came perilously close to catching a secondary device, fortunately it was found in time and only the ‘come on’ detonated – and that was here on the mainland.

    Today our focus is clearly on certain rogue forms of Islamic fundamentalism and, regardless of the who, what, when where and why this all came about, it’s still the likes of me who have to deal with it; and the simple fact of the matter is that we have been busy, very busy indeed. I can honestly say that my involvement in this particular issue has been far more extensive (and indeed eye opening) than anything I previously encountered with the Irish variety – not least because a) we all knew that they intended surviving their activities and b) it was at least theoretically possible to infiltrate or compromise their groups.

    I have seen and experienced some disturbing people and events this last couple of years, materials and intentions that I would once have dismissed as utterly improbable - but now no longer. It has been an uncomfortable education. So much has happened in fact that I often find it difficult to believe quite how we’ve got away with it so lightly. The law of averages dictate that this kind of luck cannot continue indefinitely. There is much I can’t and shouldn’t say in such a forum as this for, I hope, quite obvious reasons, however, I will state that one relatively recent operation was directly responsible for saving far more lives than was lost in 9/11, perhaps 3 times as many! I know because I was there and saw what was intended. The fact that you may or may not ever hear the full story is largely irrelevant to the reality of the situation (though look out for a forthcoming trial).

    I am continuously surprised that as media savvy as the average Register reader purports/appears to be, so many of you seem just as vulnerable and beguiled by the simplistic claptrap peddled by the press as do the masses. Few seem to consider what stories never get reported and why; the absence of information does not negate the reality of events. All things being equal, the odds of you as an individual being involved in a terrorist attack are indeed highly unlikely, but that does not equate with the odds faced by certain UK citizens in general, sadly there will be families here in the UK destined to be forever blighted by terrorism – to believe otherwise is desperately misguided or, at best, wishful thinking. And with regard to CBRN based devices, ignorance is clearly bliss!

    The threat is very real and potentially far more immediate than anything we’ve experienced before.

    You don’t have to believe me and you probably won’t if your particular dogma biases you to a different viewpoint. I really do wish I was wrong and none of this was happening but I’m afraid that’s not the case. Fortunately, everyone here has the right to their own opinion and, dare I say, their own particular cloud-cuckoo land – and in the big scheme of things that’s probably for the best, at least you guys get to sleep at night.

    You can flame all you like, it changes nothing.

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