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Airport to tag passengers

EU trials radio surveillance

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Airport security chiefs and efficiency geeks will be able to keep close tabs on airport passengers by tagging them with a high powered radio chip developed at the University of Central London.

The technology is to be trialled in Debrecen Airport in Hungary after being in development for two-and-a-half years by University College London as part of an EU-funded consortium called Optag.

Dr Paul Brennan, of UCL's antennas and radar group, said his team had developed a radio frequency identification tag far in advance of any that had been used to now to label supermarket produce.

People will be told to wear radio tags round their necks when they get to the airport. The tag would notify a computer system of their identity and whereabouts. The system would then track their activities in the airport using a network of high definition cameras.

"[The tags] have got a long range, of 10m to 20m," said Brennan, "and the system has been designed so the tag can be located to within a metre, and it can locate thousands of tags in one area at a given time."

RFID tags can normally only transmit their presence to readers a few centimetres away, while their location is difficult to grasp.

The project, called "Improving airport efficiency, security and passenger flow by enhanced passenger monitoring," is using €2m of European funding so airports can herd people through the airport system.

Colin Brooks, Optag co-ordinator, said the trial would determine if the tags would be feasible in the light of obvious problems, such as the possibility that people might ditch their tags to avoid detection, or swap them with another person.

One solution might be to require people to use their tags to get through gates placed throughout the airport, he said. Perhaps a little like a shepherd might gate off his pasture and check the tags on his sheep as they passed into this field. ®

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