If your face fits
The UK government started issuing passports with biometric details stored in embedded RFID chips in 2006. As passports last ten years, the whole UK population will have this type of passport by 2016. The UK Borders Agency has installed facial-recognition gates at a number of airports to take advantage of this feature.
The gates, which are now at eight UK airports at a cost of £1.2 billion, also read the holder details from a chip inside the passport and check the holder against security watch-lists. One of the first airports to trial them has been Birmingham International Airport. When I came through the airport in December last year just two of the gates were in use and very few passengers could be encouraged to use them, instead preferring to queue to present their passport to a Border Agency official. When I came through the airport two months later our plane from Dubai was late and the almost four hundred passengers from our plane entered the arrivals hall just as the passengers from a plane from Cancun also arrived.
The mass of several hundred people were faced with either a long snaking queue to see an official, or to turn right and use one of the automated machines. Needless to say, the machines were far more popular on this occasion. My passport does not have biometric data, but my son’s does, so we parted ways. He was through immigration a great deal quicker than I.
The machines read the data stored in the passport, and once this is done the passenger is invited to stand on marks in front of a camera. The camera scans key points of the face and compares them to the data stored in the passport. It also determines whether that passenger is on a ‘list’ requiring questioning by an official. However, if all is well the gate opens and the passenger proceeds to the belt to await their luggage – which always seems to be a long process at Birmingham airport.
Vikky Millar, project manager of the scheme with the Border Agency, said: “On average it will take each person 20 to 25 seconds to clear the gates. There will be an element of familiarisation, but we expect all passport holders to be using them by 2016.”