New machines which scan passengers’ faces and check their identities against their passports are being trialled at Manchester and Stansted Airports in a bid to improve border security.
The Government hopes the new technology will also cut queues and speed up arrivals.
The machines takes up to 15-seconds to scan each passenger’s face against their passport photo, while a human takes 20-seconds.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith unveiled the trial ‘walk in’ machines, which will take a picture of the passenger and then use facial recognition technology to match it against the picture in their passport.
At the moment the system is voluntary and only passengers with the bio-metric passports are eligible.
The sophisticated technology is expected to be rolled out nationwide on a voluntary basis. If the pilot scheme proves successful the Home Office could make the scanners compulsory.
Between eight million and 10 million biometric passports, which contain images, fingerprints or iris patterns, have been issued since their introduction in 2006. Non-biometric passports will not be valid after 2016.
A UK Border Agency spokesman said:
“Britain‘s border security is now amongst the toughest in the world.
“The new facial recognition gates undertake checks against security watch lists in the same way as a current manual controls.
“The trial will tell us whether these gates can maintain the high level of entry security we have introduced into the UK.”
Ms Smith said:
“Our high-tech electronic borders system will allow us to count all foreign nationals in and out of the UK while checking them against watch-lists.
“These checks make up just one part of Britain‘s triple ring of security, alongside fingerprint visas for three-quarters of the world’s population, and the roll-out of ID cards for foreign nationals locking people to one identity.”
Facial recognition gates use scanning equipment to compare the faces of UK and EEA passengers to their biometric passports.
The system measures points on a person’s face and compares them with the electronic passport photograph. Men who have shaved off beards or moustaches since their passport pictures were taken will not face added security problems, as the system will still be able to compare them accurately.
The announcement comes as the Home Office publishes ‘A Strong New Force at the Border’, its strategy for ensuring that Britain continues to have one of the most secure borders in the world.
The government’s £1.2bn e-Borders system has already screened 50 million passengers travelling to Britain, leading to more than 2,000 arrests, including murderers, drug dealers and sex offenders.
The Home Office says the new scanners will not result in a reduction of immigration staff. It says it will help them to focus on more intelligence-led operations.
The UK Border Agency have confirmed that its new high-tech centre for its e-Borders will be based in Manchester, and by 2010 staff will monitor almost every foreign passenger travelling in and out of Britain.
The new centre will create up to 250 jobs in the north west – joining the 25,000 staff working in the UK Border Agency across 135 countries.
The agency is signing and agreement with Manchester Airport‘s Group to work more closely to strengthen Britain‘s borders and improve the experience of legitimate passengers.
The Government strategy also lays down plans for “no fly” lists with passengers subsequently barred from flying with airlines in the UK.
The UK Border Agency was launched in April 2008 and brought together the Border and Immigration Agency, UK Visas and customs at the border.
Border and Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said:
“The British public rightly expects our borders to protect the national interests, tackling immigration crime, smuggling and tax fraud.
“Our strong new force – made up of 9,000 staff working alongside 3,000 police officers at our border – has already had large scale success with millions of pounds worth of illegal drugs seized, hundreds of weapons confiscated and tens of thousands of people barred from the UK.”