London, Mar.24 : Britain's data protection watchdog has challenged plans to fingerprint millions of passengers at Heathrow's new fifth terminal, terming the step illegal and in violation of the Data Protection Act.
According to The Telegraph, the Information Commissioner's Office has warned airport operator BAA that the security measure, designed to stop terrorists getting into the country, maybe in breach of the Act.
BAA said it was in negotiations with the Commissioner over fingerprinting but insisted there was no prospect of the row delaying the opening.
Under the plan all four million domestic passengers using Terminal 5 annually will have their fingerprints taken when they first go through security. They will then be checked again at the gate.
BAA said the measure was required because of the way Terminal 5 is designed, with domestic and international passengers sharing lounges and public areas after checking in.
Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith believes it would be more appropriate to use photographs to ensure security at common arrival and departure lounges, as this procedure is "less intrusive".
Smith said: "If we find there is a breach of data protection legislation we would hope to persuade them to put things right. If that is not successful we can issue an enforcement notice. If they don't comply, it is a criminal offence and they can be prosecuted."
Nigel Rufitt, a leading barrister has already informed BAA that he will refuse to give his fingerprints, describing the process as an "Orwellian" abuse of civil liberties.
BAA said it would destroy information from fingerprinting within 24 hours, in accordance with the Data Protection Act, and it would not be passed on to police.
The Home Office said BAA was required to ensure that arrangements at Terminal 5 did not breach border security but there was no requirement for that to involve fingerprinting.