back to article Heathrow facial recognition tech stalled by borders fiasco

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 …


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  1. jake Silver badge

    My only question is ...

    Will Lisa Simpson actually get a facial?

    Yes, I know. It's ugly. But what were they thinking?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    biometrics are great

    but depending on the setting of the pass/fail threshold you either get a whole load of false fails or a whole load of false passes. Ringways might have selected the false-pass as then TPTB can spend their time doing other bits of security theatre elsewhere in the airport. The swiss changed their passport so they get a new biometric jpeg every 5 years for their citizens, 10 years for a biomugshot is pushing it a bit, ok a lot!

    how many pixels are there between your eyes?

  3. MrXavia

    The e-gates are a great idea, but simply a typical government mess causes it to be delayed...

    I for one will stick to using IRIS, its fast and I don't even need to get my passport out of my pocket!

    1. Skoorb
      Thumb Down

      IRIS is being decomissioned

      It's now only left at Heathrow (apart from Terminal 2) and Gatwick North; you can no longer register anywhere. And it's opening times have been limited. It's being removed altogether after the Olympics.

      E-Passport gates are all the range now:

      1. MrXavia

        re: IRIS is being decomissioned


        I liked IRIS...

        Well I guess soon they will see whether MI style masks can fool it..

  4. The BigYin
    1. frank ly

      Interesting, but.....

      ... I don't have enough hair to do that and I will not wear make-up (not in public anyway).

    2. Jim Wormold

      Why would you want to "break" the system

      Your incentive is to get through the gate as quickly as possible isn't it? Why would you want to break the face detection algorithm meaning that you will then have to queue with the majority of users for a human employee to check you?

      I don't think your post is "obligatory" at all.

      1. Graham Marsden
        Big Brother

        @Jim Wormold

        "Why would you want to "break" the system"?

        Because if this works at airports, some bright spark will, once again, say "Hey, let's link it to every CCTV camera in the country, that way we can track everyone, everywhere and consider them *all* to be criminal suspects!"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Graham Marsden

          It's sad when the obvious need to be pointed out.

  5. Usually Right or Wrong


    It is a well known fact that all foreigners from the same country look the same to us, so it will just let them all pass through if one registers?

  6. slimecalled

    It never works

    Whenever I pass through Manchester the ePassports system is always closed, as is the IRIS. At heathrow the IRIS system is great, it gives you an extra twenty minutes doing bugger all as you wait for you bag to arrive

    1. Jim Hague

      Luton too

      Luton too is festooned with signs urging you to use the ePassports system. It's been installed for years.

      I've never seen it open for use.

  7. yoinkster
    Black Helicopters

    "improve queuing times for passengers"

    well how about you just open more desks and put more people behind said desks to check the passports?

    I'd rather they properly checked people coming in to the country than try to make the experience frictionless, bitch!

    1. OffBeatMammal
      Big Brother

      seems to me that the two goals don't have to be mutually exclusive... but you need to stop spending money on fancy technology (and enjoying the backhanders) and start thinking about the problem holistically (much harder and less useful for handy soundbites)

      oh, and when I return to the UK I at least expect the drone manning the desk to be able to read and write English to the standard my 12yo manages... last trip back that was a total fail

  8. JaitcH

    Wrong sort of snow and now wrong type of face

    As someone who oiles on the miles and visits too many airports I can attest that Heathrow is managed by the biggest collection of incompetents gathered together in a single location.

    Last year they had the wrong snow and the airport was closed; the they went out ad blew THIRTY FOUR MILLION POUNDS on new toys to clear the snow.

    Notwithstanding a forecast that the Met said was timed to the minute, a smattering of 2.5 inches of snow, something that Canadians think is contemptible to call a snow storm,, and BAA falls flat on it's collective face, again.

    Whose wildest imagination ever figured a BAA airport was a suitable place to try out new technology? Nothing ever works properly and to combine them with a government entity is guaranteed to fail.

    Undoubtedly as much as the Olympics will not cost the British tax payer a single Penny.

  9. D Moss Esq

    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 --

    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.

    1. Sureo

      "charges of misfeasance in public office"

      Really? You can do that in the UK?

      1. arrbee

        Yep, we call them knighthoods.

      2. D Moss Esq


        According to Wikipedia, it's something to do with French turkey-farmers: "misfeasance in public office is a cause of action in the civil courts of England and Wales and certain Commonwealth countries. It is an action against the holder of a public office, alleging in essence that the office-holder has misused or abused his power. The tort can be traced back to 1703 when Chief Justice Holt decided that a landowner could sue a police Constable who deprived him of his right to vote. The tort was revived in 1985 when it was used so that French Turkey producers could sue the Ministry of Agriculture over a dispute that harmed their sales". But not just French turkey-farmers.

  10. D Moss Esq

    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, 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

    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.

  11. D Moss Esq

    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 --

    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 -- (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

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