Cardiff Airport gets more security theatre
Got a face, sir? Step this way
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.
As long it keeps Winona out.
She is a convicted felon, whereas I don't think Osama bin Laden is, so he's ok.
The Adventures of Marsham Towers
Professor Homer slumped into her armchair in the staff room. It had been a long day and she needed a drink.
Three hours she'd spent at the funny farm, talking to Woolas and his doctors. The poor man was convinced that Joanna Lumley was stalking him.
The doctors said one more appearance on Newsnight like last week's could send him over the edge completely. Then who would the Agency get to front for them? Meg Hilier? Oh God! Time for another drink.
If only they could track down the wretched Lumley woman and bring her into custody. But she kept a very low profile, hardly ever appearing on the television or in the papers or on radio or the stage or film sets or pantomimes or country fairs and the only picture they had of her was from 30 years ago, in The Avengers. The useless face recognition technology couldn't work with anything more than five minutes old. These Muggles are good at shape-shifting.
She reached forward to pick up a copy of Border Protection Magic just as someone else took it off the coffee table. She looked up. "Who are you?", she said, noticing for the first time Professor Lahood, the new Director of Identity Management at the Agency.
"I'm Alex Lahood, the new Director of Identity Management at the Agency. Sorry, would you like to read the paper first?"
"No, it's alright, I just thought I'd see if there's anything on this latest cock-up in Australia. My poor unfortunate colleagues over there seem to have gone mad and installed MagicGates for border protection."
Lahood blushed. How could he tell her?
"Ma'am", he finally stammered, "as a matter of fact, so have we. As Director of Identity Management, I have authorised the use of MagicGates at 10 UK airports now. We should be able to fire all the staff and save a fortune."
He never knew what hit him.
Professor Homer was famous for decisive action.
Before being translated into an Identity Manager, Lahood's experience had been entirely in the field of alcohol abuse. He was actually promoted by mistake. A mistake which Professor Homer rectified with a flick of her wand.
Moments later, he was the latest wart on Nellie the hog, the chief attraction at the Agency's children's farm, and Professor Homer was racing through the corridors of power to find the headmaster, Professor Normington. What on earth was going on? She wanted answers ...
The system failed with a Dutch friend of mine this week because he was too tall - it appears that the camera can't swivel high enough for anyone over 6' 6"