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Heathrow facial recognition tech stalled by borders fiasco

Airport's scanner rollout to miss Olympics target

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Heathrow airport may now not get facial recognition technology at all five of its terminals in time for the Olympics as planned, according to the Financial Times.

Plans for BAA to install 'e-gates' facial recognition technology at the airport to allow registered non-EU nationals to use electronic self-service immigration controls were given the go-ahead last July following an 18-month trial with the UK Border Agency.

However, BAA has said that the roll out is being delayed while the UK Border Agency (UKBA) completes an investigation into last year's border checks fiasco, during which fingerprint-matching checks on visa nationals from outside Europe were regularly suspended at Heathrow.

A spokeswoman for BAA said in a statement: "BAA has installed new automated immigration clearance gates at all Heathrow terminals to improve queuing times for passengers. UKBA is responsible for border security and has been working to bring these new gates online but has paused this process while it completes internal investigations."

The investigation has meant that work that the UKBA had to complete before the gates could go live, including building a database of travellers that have registered to use the system, has not been completed, the Financial Times said.

John Holland-Kaye, BAA's commercial director, told the publication: "We could be ready [in time for the Olympics] but this is entirely within the hands of government and what their strategy is is unclear."

e-gates is an alternative to UKBA's IRIS programme, which uses eye-scanning technology. It is designed to allow registered non-EU passengers to enter the UK more quickly than the conventional border process, allowing people to pass through automated barriers at certain airports.

The e-gates system uses facial recognition technology to compare a person's face to the photograph recorded on the chip in their passport. Once the checks are made, the gates open and allow people to pass through. BAA had planned to introduce the technology ahead of the influx of passengers expected during the Olympics, with passenger numbers expected to be 45% higher during the games.

A spokesman for UKBA wouldn't comment specifically on the progress of the programme when asked by Guardian Government Computing.

"Our responsibility is to secure the border at all times and we will ensure sufficient resources and technology are put in place to meet the extra demand during the Olympics period," he said.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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