back to article Airport face-scan gate unilaterally imprisons traveller

The watchdog for the UK Border Agency says that facial recognition checks at Manchester Airport are being undermined by unreliable IT. The independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency found that during one week between 18 and 24 April 2010, the gates at Manchester airport's terminal 1 broke down five times. Four were …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. John Riddoch

    Explains it all...

    "The contract, .... was monitored by the Home Office IT unit"

    In other words, it was a Government IT project which meant it was doomed to failure from the start.

    Going off-topic somewhat, that was my prime objection to the Identity card scheme; it was always going to be a failure simply because it was a government IT project, not because of the privacy fears et al.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Similar to me ...

      ...except my objections were that it was an interference with privacy *because* it was a government IT project, amongst other things.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Where's the sense in having a contract with a company in Portugal for airports in the UK?

    1. mafoo


      I'd love to know what their callout fee is.

      1. BongoJoe


        I would like to know how they would get there if they close down the airport.

    2. Les Matthew

      Re: Prortugal

      Do you mean all those UK airports that are owned by Spain's Ferrovial?

      1. Grease Monkey Silver badge


        Appart from sharing a border what has Spain got to do with Portugal.

  3. RJ

    Almost as bad as the iris scanners

    "Please look at the screen"

    "Please move closer"

    "Please move back"

    "Please move closer"

    "Please move back"

    "Please look at the screen"

    "Please move closer"

    "Please move back"

    "Error, please check with staff"

    Still, it gave us lot in the normal queue at Heathrow a good show as we watched all the business men playing Simon says.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Went through one at Stansted recently

      I'd like to say that I stood there laughing at all the folks with old passports in the normal queue, but I can't, because I stood still in front of a camera for ten seconds then was out of the airport, leaving all the luddite plebs behind.

  4. Captain TickTock

    Forget it...

    The Face-scan gate is not long for this world:

    Zuckerberg will be suing for trademark infringement soon anyway...;-)

  5. Lionel Baden

    Really !!

    one on 23 April resulted in a passenger getting trapped in a gate. All gates were subsequently closed and the fault was not rectified until 27 April.

    He was left in there That long !!!!

    1. Anonymous John


      That's because the engineer who flew in from Portugal got trapped in the gate too.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Increased security?

    I fail to see how these gates 'increase security'.

    This can only be about reducing the number of staff numbers - I see no other 'benefit'.

    I went through one of these gates at Heathrow T5 recently. It was certainly no faster than having a human looking at my passport, in fact I'd say it was slower. In my case the machine failed to recognise me anyway - probably due partially to the bright light they shine in your face, which made me squint, and a beard I had grown since the passport photo was taken.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Increased security?

      "This can only be about reducing the number of staff numbers"

      Really? All this gadgetry seems to need continuous nannying from airport staff who have to tell everyone to put the ticket over the window in precisely the desired fashion, or to stand in precisely that spot and look precisely at that mirror moving up and down looking for the human.

      1. nichomach

        @AC Re: Increased security?

        Jus because it was intended to be less personnel-intensive doesn't mean that it is; think about it - how many of those "business process streamlining" projects ever do anything of the kind? Especially when run by the government?

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      A couple of years ago ...

      ... I arrived at an airport in either Portugal or Spain (I travelled a lot, and airports tend to blur into each other). Many of the locals went to the automated gates, and became trapped. I was through the manned gate before any of those were out, possibly because no-one went to check on them all the time I was in the queue! I wonder if the software is that same as at Manchester?

    3. streaky


      I can tell you how it's supposed to work *in theory*.

      Option a) airport monkey looks at old photo in book, compares with guy with 3rd degree burns, bin laden beard and they look kinda similar, takes a lot of people a lot of time and skill.

      Option b) computers take lots of measurements of face, compare that with data stored, check various watchlists et al with low margin of error.. 95% of the people who used to be doing that can now be searching bags, looking at xrays, interrogating asylum seekers or whatever.

      Now I did say in theory, the whole system has to work as designed for that to be the case.

      Doesn't help in stopping shifty looking EU citizen with lots of knowledge of how to make bombs, or with cash hidden away they shouldn't have or whatever though.

      Immigration guys are usually good at making people nervous then spotting them - it's what they're for and no computer system will ever replace that.

  7. My Alter Ego

    How apt

    I read facial as farcical.

  8. Mos Eisley Spaceport

    Shock horror !!!

    Just think of all those nasty terrorist types* that would have slipped right through.

    Who's protecting us !!

    * aka: innocent, false positives

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Never mind the technology

    The same Inspector's report notes that you could walk from the plane and out of the airport without bothering to go through customs *or* immigration.

    "Those door thingies with the lock whatchamacallit? Are they locked?"

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. druck Silver badge

    True positive

    Just hold up a 100% scale photograph of your face in front of your face, it's far more likely to get a true positive.

  12. despairing citizen

    And the hunt for the mythical silver bullet continues

    Ignore the stupid SLA, and contract terms, lets see if I got this tech stuff right;

    Does your fake face match the fake chip in your fake passport, when the system has been cranked low enough to prevent false negatives from annoying the public?

    What was the matter with the old system, do you look like your passport foto?, if so it means that either (a) it is a fake passport, (b) you are wearing a disguise to match the stolen passport, or (c) you are unfit to fly.

    Also, if you have a real passport, it doesn't tell me that you want to blow up my plane, but the human security chap may notice that you are nervous when checked/questioned, and thus take some action to prevent you from blowing up my plane, something the computer can't do, even if it is working.

    1. Trainee grumpy old ****
      Thumb Down

      RE: No border controls for departing flights

      "Also, if you have a real passport, it doesn't tell me that you want to blow up my plane, but the human security chap may notice that you are nervous when checked/questioned, and thus take some action to prevent you from blowing up my plane, something the computer can't do, even if it is working."

      Unless they do things differently "oop north", only inbound passengers go through immigration. Any nervousness would more like to be due to carrying a load of pharmaceuticals.

      Or were you considering the scenario where the terrorist QC is so poor the bloke fails at getting caught while failing to ignite his shoe/garments/whatever up and hence is sh*****g himself?

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Imigration Controls

        The terrorist are now using multiple legs on there terror attack flights. (e.g. the pants bomber)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Almost as bad as the iris scanners

    The iris scanners are a wonder to behold ... as previous poster commented its so amusing to watch a queue of people waiting to use this "accelerated immigration control" system while people relying on passports and people sail pass them.

    However, having experienced a automated passport face-scan machine at Birmingham these machines are completely different - no hold up at all - in fact I doubted whether it was actually bothering to do any check at all! Anyway, combination of that, hand luggage only and having had my long stay carpark ticket "upgraded" to the multistory medium stay opposite the terminal meant I was got from plane to car in about 5 mins!

    1. Andy ORourke
      Thumb Up

      I wondered that too

      I recently arrived in Heathrow T5 and stood in the passport queue and I saw a lot of frequent traveller types (you know who you are, yes you with the "hand luggage" the size of a small shopping trolley!) going through what I thought at the time were the Iris scanners.

      I thought "wow, that scanner is working really fast" espescially as the wife used the iris scanner in her business travels just last year and reported that is was, to use her exact words, "a steaming pile of shite"

      The facial recognition software must be supplied by the same people who supply the DNA / fingerprint / facial recognition for CSI!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lovely quotes.

    "Furthermore, the inspector found no overall plan to evaluate facial recognition gates at Manchester airport and has urged UKBA to do so soon as possible."

    So they introduced new tech and just /assumed it to work/. If that isn't a security hole, I don't know what is. Now there's complaints the things don't work at all, but still no question at all that when they work they will indeed work as advertised.

    "The document says that when the gates were working, they delivered benefits to passengers, reducing the time taken to go through passport control, increasing border security and allowing the UKBA to make better use of its staff."

    Pray tell, dear inspector, you've just admitted there was and is no plan to evaluate the things. How do you know just how much these things increased border security? This is technology, people. Supposedly built on science. If you can't _measure_ just how effective your security measures are, if you can't quantify false positives nor false negatives, then how do you know your technology works as advertised?

    That's right, you don't know. All we know is how many of the people "elegible" to pass through, did so, ie you measured its popularity. You didn't measure just what it did for actual security. This is perfectly justified, though:

    "If the latest technology regularly fails, staff and passengers will lose faith in its effectiveness,"

    Apparently blind faith is all that's important to UKBA+inspector.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Next UKBA security technology innovation

      Given the rigor UKBA put into the face detector kit, do you think I can flog them some electrostatic bomb detectors, I've heard there is a bunch of ADE-651's going cheap in Iraq!

  15. Anonymous Coward

    You can't get the staff, you know

    Last time I went through T1 at Manchester they were some jobsworths deliberately slowing down use of the ticker scanners because they didn't have enough staff on for the body and luggage scanning. As if the number of people using the airport cam as a sudden surprise to the management.

    Airport security is just a very expensive joke.

    1. peter_dtm

      un-necessary word

      an AIRPORT is just a very expensive joke.

      They are finally realising it doesn't matter which check in desk you use; they've only had common luggage handling for the last 30 odd years. You should just check in at the AIRPORT check-in.... don't need the airline bit 'til you're at the boarding gate...

    2. asdf

      at least they don't grab your nuts

      Security theater sucks all around but nobody goes to the retarded extremes of us yanks with our lovely ball grabbing, xray cancer causing, cattle chute herding extraordinare TSA.

    3. Cameron Colley

      The theatre only benefits the shareholders.

      But it seems there are enough politicians with shares in the "OH MY GOD TERRORRISTSSSS!!!" industry, so the scum get more for their investment.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    its portuguese basically because

    uk doesnt inovate on IT, only recycles USA technologies(which are made by east europe emigrants) and adapts for it's own.

    so basically, you havent too much to choose, you want early adopter technologies you must choose high tech innovative countries like Portugal

    1. Anonymous Coward


      No, they do it because it's cheaper.

      You really think the UK doesn't write innovative software? EDSAC, John Daugman practically invented gabor wavelet iris recognition (the useful kind), Xen is one of ours too.

      On top of that there's a lot of companies dotted around doing really interesting innovative stuff (I work for a company that lets me do /really/ fun things with code), and a lot of the big blue chip multinationals either have dev teams here or spend lots making developers - IBM in London and around basically everywhere, Microsoft with the UCCL and others - plus many more that I can't be bothered to list.

      I really is because it's cheaper, and as this article proves - not better.

  17. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse



    Tech for this type of stuff never works properly. The new fangled self service scan and pay systems in Tescos and B&Q are a case in point. They are supposed to reduce the need for till attendants and to bust queues, but there are always 3 or 4 staff members that have to hang around to put them right as they screw up so often, so the reverse is actually true.

    Whatever happened to good old human v1.0? Guess they just got too expensive eh?

  18. Rombizio


    Apparently UK Airport authorities never heard anything about reviewing SLAs. But I have no opinion about this subject. I only make comments on interesting subjects. Wait.....

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Figures... anti-Windows people - always finding some way to blame Gates for the world's problems...

  20. Anonymous Coward

    sounds suspicious

    Hm, IT support, someone trapped in the gate....

    The bloke trapped in the scanner didn't happen to work for a robot security company, did he? Or perhaps he was the Boss of a small IT department?

    Or was he the PFY was going on holiday with some very attractive women who, fortunately, found alternative companionship for their trip?


  21. Anonymous Coward

    "..passengers will lose faith in its effectiveness"

    Aw bless. He says that like someone gives a f**k

  22. Matt 53

    ah, working days

    That's office working days. Not airport working days.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    I'm not a Brit, so.....

    One of you has to go to the airport and put on an Osama Bin Laden mask as you go through the facial scanners!! Bonus points if you get through security using the mask while also carrying a 1/4 kilo block of Semtex!!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Theory already tested in parts

      A number of years ago Police managed to leave explosives on a plane after a training exercise, passenger wanted to know what this plastacine stuff was that was stuck in her seat.

      And if you turn up disguised as Osama Bin Laden, you can gate crash royal parties being protected by the police (as demo'd by Aaron Barschak)

  24. Captain Mainwaring

    View from Down-Under

    I visited family in Australia this time last year and despite being in possesion of a recently-issued UK electronic Passport, was unable to use it through their automated border gates as they were, at the time, only set up to work with Australian/NZ e passports. Whilst standing in the rather long manned border queue, I only noticed a gaggle of confident-looking Quantas aircrew using the automated border gate facility; everybody else seemed to be studiously avoiding them.

    During my stay in Oz, I read a couple of articles in the local press about the efficacy of their own home-grown borderdgate system, which according to one article, had been installed at Sydney's International airport for a few years. During the pilot trial phase, the border machines has been throwing up so many false negatives that they had to reduce the system's matching accuracy to the lowest level possible, 40% I believe, to make the system usable during busy periods. A government aviation spokesman was quoted by the paper as stating that at even 40% matching accuracy, it's performance was broadly similar to that of an experienced immigration official.

    I don't know if this is typical of other such systems used in the rest of the world, but at this relatively low level of matching accuracy, I wonder if it was worth spending such large sums of money on the whole e-passport/bordergate infrastructure. Employing a few extra border personel at peak times would probably be just as effective at keeping long queues down to a minimum and come with the in built advantage of common sense and human intuition that machines cannot provide.

  25. D Moss Esq

    John Vine does not say facial recognition increases border security (I think)

    The Kable report says:

    "The document says that when the gates were working, they delivered benefits to passengers, reducing the time taken to go through passport control, increasing border security and allowing the UKBA to make better use of its staff."

    I have checked through Mr Vine's report* several times. Nowhere, as far as I can see, does he say that the use of facial recognition technology at Manchester airport is increasing border security. I may have missed it. But otherwise, the quotation above is inaccurate, Kable are giving the suppliers of the hardware and software an unsolicited and undeserved testimonial.


  26. TeeCee Gold badge

    Gordon Brown.

    Got stopped by one of these, but when he dropped his trousers and walked through backwards it worked just fine.


    Maybe that's why the software is outsourced to Portugal? They don't want that sort of thing to happen for real.....

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like