US-bound passengers to be checked against 'no-fly' list

BRITISH passengers are set to have their names checked against a controversial "no-fly" list before take off for the United States.

Airline passengers face being left behind at UK airports if their name appears on one of the lists during security checks by the US authorities.

The news comes after European ministers revealed plans to introduce biometric testing at European airports in a bid to boost security measures in the wake of last week's alleged terror plot.

Passengers would have their fingerprint or iris scanned under the measures, which would also use passenger profiling to try to identify potential terrorists.

The US "no fly" list, which has been resisted by the airline industry for fear of costly delays, could be in place by early next year.

It would make permanent a security measure temporarily put in place for flights from Britain after last week's foiled plot to bomb trans-Atlantic flights.

Currently, airlines have to submit their passenger lists for international flights 15 minutes after takeoff, but under the new plans, certain passengers would not be allowed to take off at all.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said: "The reason we haven't moved this [until now] is because the airlines were concerned about what they would do about passengers who would come up at the last minute, and they don't want to hold the flights up.

"Our position has been: Isn't it better to know before the plane takes off than to turn the plane around? Which I think is correct. So we're on a course to getting this piece nailed down."

Airlines fear that requiring the checks before takeoff would delay flights because of problems with information technology, staffing and privacy concerns among European Union countries.

That prediction was borne out after the department demanded to check passenger lists before US-bound flights left British airports because of last week's threat alert.

James May, president of the Air Transport Association, said: "There were very large numbers of very lengthy delays."

But the United States today said the change was being discussed even before last week's plot to bomb as many as ten flights headed for the US from London was infiltrated by police.

The news comes after a London-to-Boston flight was called back to Heathrow Airport after US authorities discovered a passenger's name was on their "no-fly" list.

The Bush administration also is considering permanently banning passengers from bringing liquids on flights and requiring all passengers to remove their shoes when passing through security checkpoints.

Meanwhile, the move to beef up relaxed security procedures in Europe came as Home Secretary John Reid warned that human rights would have to be balanced against the threat from terrorism and that the current terror threat was Europe-wide and needed to be tackled on an international level.

The EU minister in charge of justice, Franco Frattini, said ministers were looking at the "positive profiling" of passengers, carried out well in advance of their flights, based on "biometric identifiers" such as iris scans or fingerprints.

However, both he and Mr Reid stressed that there were no plans for profiling based on passengers' ethnic origins.

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