back to article UK airports to trial face scan passport checks

The UK Border Agency hopes to conduct trials of automated passport-check gates at UK airports this summer. The gates would use computer software to compare a traveller's face with the information stored in new biometric passports, removing the need for human staff. "Britain's border security is now amongst the toughest in the …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Richard

    Does it work with enlarged pictures?

    With no one around to physically check does it mean that I can "borrow" a passport, produce an enlargement of the owner's face and hold that up to the camera?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Face recognition supercomputers

    There's a class of computer that's especially good at face recognition, it has a massively parallel recognition engine and can match faces even despite differing expressions, lighting conditions and many other real world variables.

    It's call a human brain.

    Lets be honest about these biometric things, they don't recognise faces they recognize stuff like the estimated distance between the pupils of the eyes, or the ration of tip of nose to eye line to ear separation. All are rough estimates from a photo that a computer has no way of really 'seeing' and all are less able to cope with real world things than one of those massive super computers we call a borders officer.

    It's a sales trick to call it 'face' recognition, same with fingerprints, retinas etc. all estimates and subsets.

  3. Steve

    Alternate travel arrangements.

    At the rate things are going, illegal people-traffickers are going to be a viable alternative. Sure, you might spend 12 hours crammed into an uncomfortable position, get fleeced for all your money and be pushed around and threatened by the thugs who run the scam.

    But if you go by air, you've got the flight to contend with on top of all that.

  4. Nomen Publicus

    In related news...

    It was reported today that terrorists have succeeded in discovering how to travel from Afghanistan to London by car... bypassing the increased security in airports.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    My driving license photo is nothing CLOSE to what I look like now. It's practically a different person...So what would this computer think about a man with a massive beard in his passport photograph, who then later chooses to shave it off? Or vice versa? Can it pick that up?

  6. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Re: It's call a human brain.

    Yeah, it's so great that it gets bored if you ask it to spend its entire working life looking at faces. FAR better to let a dumb machine whittle the dataset down to manageable proportions and then let the human spend more time on those. Of course, you don't actually reduce your staffing requirements that way, but you probably do produce a better system.

    For a country under constant threat from Bad Guys trying to sneak in with false passports, the improved security might justify the cost of the system. Does anyone know of such a country?

  7. Anton Ivanov

    Re: Hair

    Dunno about UK, but all other countries I know consider your id invalid if beard or moustache are present on the person, but absent in the id or vice versa.

  8. Graham Wood


    You have a beard?


    Hold on a second - so do I.

    Mine's the one with the sleeves at the back

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Facial biometric data?

    "All new UK passports issued since 2006 contain facial biometric data."

    A photo then?

  10. AC

    best joke I've heard for a long time

    "Britain's border security is now amongst the toughest in the world"

    Maybe he means the toughest to find in action?

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Learn from experience!

    Reading this simply reinforces that people who make the rules don't have to live by them.

    If any of the UKBA people who are thinking about this were to regularly travel into either Heathrow or Gatwick from outside the UK, they would know that Iris (the predecessor to any face recognition systems) is useless - often it is not working and when it does its slower than the normal passport control.

    In comparison to the Privium system in Holland - Iris is very bad and Iris is not by any stretch of the imagination cost effective. At least for Privium you pay and get something worthwhile - includes express security screening.

    So would not the money on a face recognition scheme be better put to improving Iris or its next version?

    Another point comes to mind, enrolling people on the new face systems will be a huge task (new passports, enrolment... the list goes on) given how often most people regularly travel and renew passports.

    So at what point would there be enough people enrolled to make it financially viable/cost effective, relative to border officers?

    Someone's having a Toffee Crisp, at tax payers expense!

    ps I have a fun rule for Iris: One person through Iris is equivalent to five people in the normal passport queue. So when walking towards it, I do the maths quickly and I always get through quicker in the passport queue! And I am enrolled on Iris - sad but true.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    RE: Hair

    That's a concern for me as well. I trust a person to recognise me as the same guy as in the photo but with a shaved head - or who has changed his beard a bit (fun to play with sometimes). But a machine? It's bad enough that passport or any ID photos always make me look like a thug or a probable terrorist. I would certainly be more comfortable with a person who can recognise my innate charm (ok harmlessness).

    I assume that a person would always review a machine decision but this might not mean much if that person is poorly trained or inexperienced and has decided that relying on (blaming) the machine is a safer bet re job security.

    If the machines (as in RoTM) wore pants they would be wetting them with excitement over the possibility of taking control of travel chokepoints.

    The (unmanned) black helicopter because that's an airline I don't want to fly.

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Face recognition supercomputers

    Interestingly, everthing you wrote, is entirely wrong.

    I was going to post a link to New Scientist, but actually these references are more interesting:

  15. David Shepherd

    100% accuracy

    Reminds me of a story I read many years ago of experiments with a tank recognition system for the army ... basically they "taught" a neural net to distinguish between photos taken of salisbury plain during some tank exercises with the same views taken the next day when the tanks were gone .... results were impressive and duly demonstrated ... however subsequent sets of photos were much less successfull. Eventually after lots of head scratching the designers came to the conclusion that the neural net hadn't learnt to detect tanks but instead coudl distinguish between Salisbury plain on a sunny day and Salisbury plain on a cloudy day!

  16. Carl

    It's already here...

    They have this system as Lisbon airport. My current success ratio is 67%: I've been through the scanner 3 times, and it trapped me in the cubicle once. I think that was because I'm not wearing glasses in the passport photo and I was in real life.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @Graham Wood

    Actually, I think you would be classed as a terrorist if your photo had a beard and you didn't when going through the scanner.

    It is well known that terrorists have a shave before meeting thier maker...

    Paris because she's never had a beard

  18. David

    @Ken Hagan

    Iraq springs immediately to mind, except that I thought that the Yanks just shoved their way in and didn't worry about passports at all.


  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ""All new UK passports issued since 2006 contain facial biometric data."

    A photo then?"

    You may joke, but yes. The facial biometric is otherwise known as a photograph, digitally stored. More seriously this is one of the mis-truths (ie: Out and out lies) that ministers have been getting away with about ID cards. Several times on Radio 4 news I have heard government ministers saying that we may as well have ID cards because we're going to have to have biometric passports soon anyway. They somehow forget to mention that the biometric is a photo on a chip, which we already have.

  20. Hawknic

    Re: Learn from experience!

    Iris is useless, and slower than normal passport control?

    B*lls. I've been using it for ages at various airports and it's always worked fine - the only glitch I've had is that I sometimes have to bend over. As noone else seems to use it it means you can bypass all of the queues - but of course this advantage would be lost if everyone had to use it.

    The only reason passport control (without the queues) is so quick is because there is so little checking of UK passports happening, just a cursory glance at the picture. If we can take the same or a little more time to have a true identity check then surely that's a good thing.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Iris v photo

    My boss had his passport and driving licence stolen while abroad recently. He got a temporary passport from the British embassy where he was and flew back to UK. When he got back, he had no other ID than the temporary passport and was stopped by immigration. Luckily for him when he flew abroad last year he decided just for fun to register on the Iris system, and so they were able to use that to confirm his identity.

    Since returning my boss has applied for a replacement photo driving licence and a new passport. The first set of photos he had taken were accepted for the licence but rejected for the passport, as were 3 subsequent sets, the 5th set finally being accepted.

    I don't know if the people at the passport agency have shares in these photo-me booth companies but it took 3 sets of photos for my niece to get hers accepted for her passport.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    re: Face recognition supercomputers

    It's call a human brain + massive super computers we call a borders officer. erm, isn't that like military intelligence?

    mine's the one in the back with the neurons spilling out the pockets

  23. Les Matthew

    Re: @Graham Wood

    "Paris because she's never had a beard"

    But she has had a close shave.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020