Automatic face recognition in UK airports

By EDRi · May 7, 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

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

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

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

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)