Heathrow facial recognition tech stalled by borders fiasco
Airport's scanner rollout to miss Olympics target
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.
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The pressure on John Vine -- misfeasance in public office 2
John Vine, Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, is the man who reported Brodie Clark to Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive, on suspicion of suspending fingerprint checks too often.
Brodie Clark is the now ex-head of the UK Border Force who said in his evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that fingerprint checks are the ninth and bottom priority for officers of the Border Force, they are the least reliable security/identity checks made and, when the occasion arises, it is very sensible to suspend fingerprint checks rather than any of the others.
Mr Vine was due to investigate the Brodie Clark affair further and report to the Home Office by 31.1.12. His report has now been delayed.
All details here -- http://www.dmossesq.com/2012/02/john-vine-report-delayed.html
The commissioning of smart gates has now been delayed.
And so has IABS.
IABS is the Immigration and Asylum Biometrics System. This is a new system being introduced to beef up border security and particularly to help to make the 2012 Olympics safe. Jackie Keane, a senior civil servant at UKBA, was supposed to get IABS in by 31.12.11. In the event, most of it is now scheduled for deployment this month and the Olympics bit next month, March, getting dangerously close to the Olympics themselves.
IABS details available here -- http://www.ukdirectgov.com/homeoffice/ukba/sitecontent/documents/aboutus/workingwithus/ukba-news1/issue-10_178d2d3.pdf (p.5)
Since (constructively) dismissing Brodie Clark for suspending fingerprint checks, UKBA has suspended fingerprint checks at Calais for stowaways. Damian Green MP said his staff have got better things to do. Not looking good for UKBA at the tribunal -- "so you dismissed Mr Clark for doing what is now policy, Mr Green ...".
Please see http://www.dmossesq.com/2012/01/theresa-may-damian-green-keith-vaz.html
Information rights -- misfeasance in public office 3
The biometrics for smart gates and fingerprint checking at the border and at the upcoming Olympics are provided by IABS, the Immigration and Asylum Biometric System, please see http://www.ukdirectgov.com/homeoffice/ukba/sitecontent/documents/aboutus/workingwithus/ukba-news1/issue-7_178d2d3.pdf, p.5.
IABS is the responsibility of Jackie Keane, a senior civil servant at the UK Border Agency, and was due to go live by 31.12.11. In the event, it has been delayed. Most of it is now due to go live by 29.2.12 and the Olympics bit by 31.3.12.
The suppliers involved are: IBM, Morpho, Home Office IT, Fujitsu and Atos.
Do Morpho's biometrics work?
According to IBM, yes they do.
Could we, the public, please see IBM's report, which gave enough confidence to the Home Office that these biometrics work to make them spend several hundred million pounds of your money and mine on gizmos like smart gates?
"No", said the Home Office.
"No", said the Information Commissioner's Office.
The case comes before the Information Rights Tribunal on 24.2.12, over two years after the initial Freedom of Information request was submitted, please see http://dematerialisedid.com/bcsl/foi.html
Perhaps the tribunal will say "Yes".And perhaps we will see then that Whitehall has been knowingly wasting our money on duff technology, giving that money to the nice people at IBM, Morpho, Home Office IT, Fujitsu and Atos. That would be misfeasance in public office. Perish the thought.
Biometrics -- misfeasance in public office 1
Several Home Office officials have asserted that smart gates are being installed because they are confident that they work. The confidence of these officials is based, they say, on the results of trials conducted, particularly at Manchester Airport.
John Vine is the Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency. He inspected Manchester Airport and said in his report that: "We could find no overall plan to evaluate the success or otherwise of the facial recognition gates at Manchester Airport and would urge the Agency to do so [as] soon as possible".
All details available here -- http://www.dmossesq.com/2011/11/whitehall-on-trials.html
Were the officials lying? Were they misled? Is John Vine not very good at inspecting? Don't know, can't answer any of those questions.
But someone had better answer them because wagonloads of public money are being spent in the UK on systems whose success depends on the chosen biometrics being reliable. If they're not reliable, and if Whitehall knows that they're not reliable, then many officials will be liable to charges of misfeasance in public office.