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Automatic face recognition in UK airports

7 May, 2008

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

Starting this summer, the UK Border Agency will use facial recognition technology at automated unmanned gates. A machine would accept or reject the match between the scan and the computer information on people with biometric passports.

The pilot project will be open to UK and EU citizens holding new biometric passports. "We think a machine can do a better job (than manned passport inspections). What will the public reaction be? Will they use it? We need to test and see how people react and how they deal with rejection. We hope to get the trial up and running by the summer" said Gary Murphy, head of operational design and development for the UK Border Agency, during a biometrics-related conference that took place in London in April 2008.

Home Office minister Liam Byrne said: "Britain's border security is now among the toughest in the world and tougher checks do take time, but we don't want long waits. So the UK Border Agency will soon be testing new automatic gates for British and European Economic Area citizens. We will test them this year and if they work put them at all key ports (and airports)."

As there is concern that passengers will react badly if rejected by an automated gate, the technology will err on the side of caution and innocent passengers that are rejected may be redirected to traditional passport queues, or authorized officers may override the automatic gates after having performed the necessary checks.

However, the technology is highly criticized. Phil Booth of the No2Id Campaign explains: "Someone is extremely optimistic. The technology is just not there. The last time I spoke to anyone in the facial recognition field they said the best systems were only operating at about a 40% success rate in a real time situation. I am flabbergasted they consider doing this at a time when there are so many measures making it difficult for passengers."

The facial image contained by the EU passport is actually a digitised copy of the normal passport picture which is not a biometric data and, according to a report of the UK National Audit Office "current facial recognition technology is not reliable enough to enable the automated checking of applications against the full database of existing passport holders". The report also says that the technology may be useless in cases when the two-year guaranty chips are contained into 10-year long passports. Besides, the face may change very much in ten years making the database even more unreliable.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments: "The UK and other EU governments refer to the digitised passport photo as a biometric when it is not for ideological reasons - to get us used to the idea that they already have one of our "biometrics" so why should we not give them another - our fingerprints. The process however is very different. In most cases the passport picture is simply submitted by post or at an office whereas the compulsory taking of fingerprints requires the physical presence of the person at an "enrolment centre" where they have to prove "they are who they are".

The Government has not yet decided how many airports will take part in the trial but, if the pilot project is successful, the technology will be extended to all UK airports.

Face scans for air passengers to begin in UK this summer (25.04.2004)

Identity and Passport Service: Introduction of ePassports

UK to introduce face scans at airports (26.04.2008)

Computers to scan passengers at UK airports this summer (23.04.2008)



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