Air passengers travelling to British airports are to have their faces scanned and identities checked by machines under plans to be announced.
But they might not stop terrorists coming into the UK…
By Christopher Hope, Home Affairs Editor
However if the trials prove successful, ministers want the machines to replace most front line airport immigration officer over the next five years.
As well as improving security, ministers hope the computers will cut passenger congestion. The machines take 13-15 seconds per passenger, while a human takes 20 seconds.
Eleven pilot “walk-in” machines were covertly introduced at Manchester and Stansted airports last month to check passports automatically. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is expected to be in Manchester airport to unveil the new plans on Tuesday.
The new machines take instant photographs of the holder, which are then electronically matched against the 2D digital pictures in their documents to check their identities.
If the pilot schemes are a success, the technology is expected to be rolled out to airports and ports nationwide.
But critics said last night that the technology is unproven and could cause innocent passengers to be rejected.
There have been concerns about the accuracy of the technology. Guy Herbert, the general secretary of the No2ID campaign, said: “This is security theatre – a photo op for the bank holiday traveller. All the trials have been run on facial recognition almost everywhere have been dismal failures. To suggest that this is any security benefit is a joke for anyone following the technology.”
The trials are already being boycotted by members of the Government’s new border force because of concerns they might not stop terrorists coming into the UK.
A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Union said: “Our members are being told not to volunteer for the technology until the concerns have been addressed about reliability and whether it can do what the Government wants it to do. There is an issue of national security here.”
The Tories, which want to give a border force full police powers, expressed concerned that the Government’s “over-reliance on technology was putting the security of the public at risk”.
Between eight million and 10 million biometric passports have been issued since their introduction in 2006. Non-biometric passports will not be valid after 2016. The new technology is an advance on existing iris recognition technology which was temporarily shelved in November last year.
Last night a UK Border Agency spokesman said: “The UK is undergoing the biggest shake-up in its borders for nearly 40 years, Britain’s border security is now among the toughest in the world. The new facial recognition gates undertake checks against security watch lists in the same way as the current manual control. The trial will tell us whether these gates can maintain the high level of entry security we have introduced to the UK.”
Last month, fingerprint scanning at Heathrow’s Terminal Five was postponed before it started amid concerns from the Information Commissioner’s Office about what would happen to the data.