Robots at UK passport control

Facial recognition gates - coming to an airport near you soon
Facial recognition gates - coming to an airport near you soon

The UK Border Agency, under directions from Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, is testing out new facial recognition gates at Manchester Airport this month.

Claimed to balance high security with quicker times at immigration control, the new gates will use scanning equipment to compare UK and EEU passengers' faces to the photographs stored on their biometric passports.

While this frees a lot of people from being scrutinised by a robot, there are still 13 million people in the UK with a biometric passport, and 30 million more in the EU.

Jacqui Smith said: "The UK has one of the toughest borders in the world and we are determined to ensure it stays that way."

"Our hi-tech electronic borders system will allow us to count all foreign nationals in and out of the UK, while checking them against watch-lists."

Face Reading

Those equipped with biometric passports travelling through Manchester Airport can pass, voluntarily at this stage, through the unmanned gates and avoid queues.

The first gate checks a user's passport for signs of tampering, and that they are not on any security lists.

If they get through to the next gate, a facial recognition scanner reads their face, comparing it to the image stored on their passport's biometric chip.

Should the passenger fail the scan, they are apprehended by immigration officers for more checks.

"Untried, untested technology"

Public and Commerical Services Union deputy general secretary Hugh Lanning voiced concerns: "This is untried, untested technology and they're going live with it before they've been able to recognise any of the difficulties there might be with the system.

"People are being allowed through on the basis of this technology. It means that 95% of people won't b checked in any way, other than by the machine."

The system will also be introduced at Stansted in September, and if the trials are considered successful, it will be extended to all major UK airports.