Scanner inspection: British Home Secretary Charles Clarke tries out one of the new scanners in 2005 as they were hailed by Ministers as a key weapon in the fight against terrorism and fraud
Airports in UK have concluded machines are worse than traditional methods
Eye scanners which are meant to slash queues at airport passport control are coming under scrutiny after airports around the world started to scrap the costly machines.
In the UK, the scheme was introduced at a cost of $14billion but is now quietly being rolled back after officials concluded that the machines were slower than checking passports manually.
Now the U.S. airports which have used the technology will have to reconsider their reliance on expensive electronics over human expertise.
The last British government claimed that the iris scanners were capable of processing travellers in as little as 12 seconds.
But after 385,000 passengers submitted their details, the scanners have been ditched at Birmingham and Manchester airports, and they are expected to vanish from Heathrow and Gatwick after the Olympics.
Some irate travellers even ended up getting trapped inside the scanning booths when they malfunctioned.
When the then immigration minister, Des Browne, unveiled the Iris Recognition Immigration System, known as Iris, in 2004, he claimed it would provide a ‘watertight’ check of identities as well as cutting queues. It was targeted at foreign passport holders resident in the UK or who regularly travel here and wanted to avoid lengthy queues. They had to undergo a free 15-minute registration to record the unique pattern of their iris every two years.
Plans to use the technology for UK passports and even an ill-fated ID cards scheme were dropped after it emerged that up to one in ten travellers was wrongly rejected by the scanners.
They then had to wait for manual checks to be performed.
Subsequently, facial recognition technology has been developed with the new generation of biometric passports which can be used at automated ‘e-gates’.
These chip-enabled passports are not held by travellers from outside the European Economic Area, however, and they have remained dependent on iris recognition.
Lucy Moreton, deputy general secretary of the Immigration Service Union, said the Iris scheme had been beset with problems from the beginning. She added: ‘Iris scanners are prone to throwing up false alerts when genuine travellers try to use them. We welcome the decision to phase them out.’
James Baker, of privacy group No2ID, said: ‘This is recognition that iris scanning is an expensive failure. The money would be better spent employing more trained staff to use their initiative and check passports manually.’
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We are phasing out Iris and will be replacing it with other types of gates that non-EU passengers will be able to use.’