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Cardiff Airport is joining Manchester in using facial recognition technology to automate passport checks for inbound passengers.

Anyone over 18 with a biometric passport issued since 2006 can choose to have their face scanned, matched to the picture held on a chip on their passport and, assuming there's a match, be allowed in.

Doesn't this sound marvellous? Except the gates in Manchester were throwing up so many false results that staff effectively turned them off. Previously matches had to be 80 per cent the same - this was quickly changed to 30 per cent.

This means the machines are unable to distinguish between the faces of Winona Ryder and Osama bin Laden. Even more worryingly, the adjusted gates failed to distinguish between renownded pseudo-Scot Mel Gibson and actual Scot Gordon Brown.

We asked the Home Office if the Cardiff machines will be run on the same basis as those in Manchester, but it was not able to reply. We also asked for figures on false results from the trial at Manchester which started in August 2008 - nothing there either.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: "We will not give the error rates or technical specifications of the gates for commercial and security reasons. The gates have been independently verified by the International Commercial Aviation Organisation (ICAO) who set the standards for machine-readable travel documents."

The press release does tell us that 860,000 people have used the gates - but we don't know how many of those were Winona Ryder, and how many Osama bin Laden.

The technology is also being used at Stansted and Bristol airports.

We have a more detailed explanation of the weakness of current biometric technology here.

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