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Home Office, civilians all fingers and thumbs on biometrics

UK finds old habits hard to break

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The government's senior biometrics advisor says that the Home Office's biometric programmes have become bogged down in the face of bureaucracy's liking for manual processes.

The Home Office is running various schemes using databases of people's biometric records, including identity cards, border controls and hi-tech passports.

Marek Rejman Greene, senior biometrics advisor of the UK Home Office's scientific development branch, said that one of the biggest obstacles facing the Home Office's biometrics programme was getting people and organisations to change the way they worked. He also noted that the Home Office was used to doing things manually.

"The workflow processes are still a major challenge," he admitted at a Homeland Security conference in Brussels.

He did not elaborate, but Ian Neill, deputy director of the Home Office's e-Borders programme, said at the same forum: "This is not about a technology solution. We are dealing with a massive business change process."

Speaking to an audience of peers from across Europe about the problems the Home Office would have to overcome when it implemented biometrics systems, Greene said ordinary people would present the "most critical" problem. He observed they didn't always follow instructions and tended to get "overwhelmed" when presented with biometric border controls.

This is a problem that has caused the Home Office's Iris e-Borders project to enter crisis talks with its suppliers.

Pat Abrahamsen, strategy and development manager for the Iris system at the Home Office's e-Borders agency, said: "We had a lot of problems with the barriers [in immigration halls]. We still have problems with the barriers. We are under a lot of pressure to make the barriers more reliable and more user-friendly."

One person among the 95,000 enrolled on the Iris fast-track immigration scheme tried to breeze through the barrier as though he was acting out a scene from the Minority Report, the biometric dystopia sci-fi film, and was expecting the scanner to catch his identity in the blink of an eye.

Another traveller, who was not enrolled on Iris, was found trying to get one of the Iris project's eye scanners to read her passport.®

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