The UK Border Agency's own staff don't trust the million pound bioscanning e-Gates installed at nine British airports, and in some cases actively discourage passengers from using them, said a damning report published today by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee.
MPs on the committee said that they had seen for themselves that the e-Gates system, and IRIS (the iris recognition immigration system), a fore-runner of e-Gates – don't work:
It has been alleged that some of the machines, including iris scanners, are malfunctioning and that "Agency" staff have actively discouraged people from using e-Gates. Members of the Committee have seen for themselves the closure of this facility and confusion of staff about how to manage and direct the flow of travellers, with staff only able to advise that 'it's not working'.
Quoted in the report, Rob Whiteman, chief exec of the UK Border Agency admitted that staff felt "threatened" by the eGates and didn't really understand them:
"We need to explain to staff the reasons why we think automation is a good idea, and win them over, to help people feel that it is part of making the "Agency" more efficient," Whiteman told the committee.
The committee recommended that the agency provide convincing evidence, for its own staff as well as the general public, that the e-Gates system is no less reliable than passport checks carried out by a person.
The Border Agency's costly iris scanning programme came in for some particularly heavy criticism from MPs. The announcement in February that the machines would be mothballed meant that the £9m plunged into the system only served to work patchily for six years.
"Its sole value appears to have been that it provided data for the e-Gates," rages the Committee.
This money could have been better spent on border staff — at least 60 immigration officers could have been employed with the money spent on IRIS. The Committee recommends that, in order to avoid another costly investment in equipment which will not last, the "Agency" publish the data it has collected on the e-Gates trials which it is currently running.
The committee also have demanded that the border agency informs it about what the UKBA intends to do with the hundreds of thousands of retinal scans of Brits and UK visitors that it has collected over the years. ®