Kiosks at Border Control
Facing Up to Facts
The first facial recognition gates were installed at Manchester Airport in August 2008, and they were then installed at Stansted Airport in December 2008, where they have now been used by over 160,000 passengers. By August 2009, these kiosks will be installed at ten other airports as part of an ongoing trial.
The kiosks, or ‘Smart Gates,’ scan travellers’ faces and check them against their passport photo. In just a few seconds, the kiosks scan a traveller’s face against the digital photo recorded in their biometric passport and, if there is a match, the gates automatically open to allow the traveller across the border. Because the system measures points on a person’s face and assesses them against the digital passport photograph, the system can make an accurate comparison, even if the person has changed their appearance since their passport picture was taken.
A spokesperson for the UK Border Agency explained, “Facial recognition gates use scanning equipment to compare the faces of UK and EEA passengers to their biometric passports, providing high security with quicker passage at immigration control. Previous tests show that the system can reliably pick out imposters and even distinguish between identical twins. An immigration officer supervises the whole process and will intervene where necessary.”
The gates also undertake checks against security watch-lists in the same way as the current manual control, checking the passports for evidence of tampering and making sure the passenger matches the passport. UK Border Agency officers continue to oversee the gates and intervene if they have any suspicions about any passengers. Leave the disguise kit at home, however, as passengers are still subject to random manual checks.
The gates can be used by any British or European passenger who has a new e-passport with an electronic chip, without registration. Nearly 17 million biometric passports – which contain images, fingerprints or iris patterns – have been issued in the UK since their introduction in 2006.
This new e-Borders (electronic border) system, costing £1.2 billion, helps the UK Border Agency to target terrorist suspects, known criminals and would-be immigrants before they can reach the UK. By the end of 2009, 60% of all passenger and crew movements in and out of the UK will be captured, with an increase to 95% by the end of next year.
The automated border system has been developed by Fujitsu Services and Vision-Box SA. This new technology delivers high security at the same time as it reduces queuing times at immigration control and improves the airport experience for passengers arriving at the terminal. The widening of this pilot to other airports in the UK speaks well for the success of the facial recognition gates, although no data or findings as to their effectiveness have yet been published.
Nothing to Declare
One general problem of increasing security measures to control migration is that it can make things more difficult and time-consuming for legitimate passengers to pass through security. The great strength of this trial is that it makes legitimate travel easier and quicker, while increasing security, but makes illegitimate travel more difficult because the checks are stronger and more effective, so it is more difficult for criminals and illegal immigrants to get into the country. The enhanced screening means individuals can be identified and verified faster and more accurately, so legitimate migration is facilitated. Automating the border crossing also decreases queues and eases congestion issues at border controls during busy periods. The majority of passengers can be fast-tracked through the simple two-step system, making their journey more efficient. Some passengers might find it less intimidating to check themselves through border control rather than being scrutinised at a manned desk.
The trial at Stansted has been extended until October, so the gates will be in use throughout the busy summer holiday season. Barry McGill, Assistant Director for the UK Border Agency at Stansted Airport, commented, “Britain’s border security is amongst the toughest in the world. By using new technology we are helping make our border even more secure, making the UK safer, speeding up travel for passengers and improving our services to the public. This trial gives our officers an extra tool to improve security at the border.”
The trial at Stansted is being run in partnership with the UK Border Agency and airport operator BAA. Stansted Airport’s Head of Terminal, Neale Jouques, explained, “Here at Stansted, we have invested heavily in the arrivals experience for our passengers. In addition to the £50 million extension to the arrivals hall and increase to the number of desks available to UK Border Agency, we have been delighted to install these new automated machines. We have provided additional BAA staff to assist with the introduction of the new equipment and help raise awareness of the trial. The new facial recognition gates have been very well received by our passengers, with their feedback overwhelmingly positive. They provide an additional option at immigration control for those travelling with a biometric passport, and help improve border security while also reducing queuing times for arriving passengers.”
The gates also allow officers extra time to concentrate on high-priority risks and intelligence-led operations. Similar facial recognition gates at border control are being used around the world, including in Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Finland.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009