back to article Your ugly mug may be scanned yet again – but at least you'll be able to board faster at Gatwick

Gatwick Airport will extend its use of facial recognition to match passengers to their passports at departure gates before they board planes. The original trial with easyJet scanned passengers' faces when they used self-service luggage drop-off points on their way to European destinations. We're sure at least some of those …

  1. AMBxx Silver badge
    Boffin

    Let's not get two separate things confused.

    There's a big difference in reliability between:

    1) Is this person the same as the person in this picture

    and

    2) Is this person one of these 1 million people in this database

    1 is fairly easy and accurate. 2 not so much.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Let's not get two separate things confused.

      And for the Gatwick case is probably a third option

      3) is this person at the gate the same as the person who used the auto check-in machine and have we seen them at each of the checkpoints through security.

      It seems that here the facial recognition is being used to replace the scanning of boarding cards at each step of the process

    2. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Let's not get two separate things confused.

      Well said.

      Particularly, matching the face on the passport with the face in front of the camera does not need either to be stored for any longer than the second or so that it takes to make the comparison. The problem I have with face-scanning isn't the scanning itself, it's the retention of the images for an undetermined-to-indefinite period to be accessed by every tom, dick and harry with a government login.

      A question does arise though... linking 'person at the gate' with 'person on the passport' shouldn't be enough for boarding, it has to be linked to 'person checked-in on the flight'. Which presumably means you have to provide a document ID at booking or before check-in (as some booking sites already insist on)

      1. LeahroyNake Silver badge

        Re: Let's not get two separate things confused.

        My passport is almost 8 years old and I look umm very different from the quite frankly criminal looking person on my passport photo.

        I always avoid the passport scanner auto system even when the security / staff try to steer me towards them when they see my UK passport. It failed once and was not a nice experience, it involved a separate room and a thankfully short interview. Still embarrassing though. Give me a person please.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Black Helicopters

          Re: Let's not get two separate things confused.

          I look like a young Ronny Biggs in my passport photo.

          This might be the reason I get extra checks so often, or it might be the smuggling cheese into China gaff.

          After every other broken promise, I dont believe the data will "be stored for only a few seconds"; more likely "data will be stored for only a few seconds before being leaked onto the internet and used to spam more adverts at me"

          Waiting at the gate, my phone pings. "We see you are flying with Kamikaze Air, would you be interested in extra life insurance??"

      2. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: Let's not get two separate things confused.

        to be accessed by every tom, dick and harry with a government login

        Given that you will have handed over a photograph to the government in order to get your passport in the first place, that bird has already flown. Compared with your multiple, lengthy appearances on airport CCTV, it perhaps should not be at the top of your list of privacy concerns.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 1 is fairly easy and accurate. 2 not so much.

      therefore, we "need" to test the system to make it more accurate. What better place than an airport where you have, daily, thousands of faces matched to thousands of official documents with their official photos. And, I wonder, can we not then track those positive matches across the airport, to let our cameras "learn" in less than perfect conditions?

      btw, who are you, a terrorist? ;)

  2. macjules Silver badge

    no data would be stored for longer than a few seconds

    Gatwick said no data would be stored for longer than a few seconds during the trial, which had been designed to comply with relevant data protection laws.

    And when did they start allowing pigs to use Gatwick's runway? Was that before or after they allowed unicorn flights?

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: no data would be stored for longer than a few seconds

      Depends if you count 106s as 'a few' I suppose.

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: no data would be stored for longer than a few seconds

        It was a secret trial just before last Christmas.

        Unfortunately some people mistook the pigs for drones...

    2. JDX Gold badge

      Re: no data would be stored for longer than a few seconds

      If you're worried about people tracking your data, you REALLY do not want to be in an airport, period. I don't see this making much difference?

      1. Drew Scriver Bronze badge

        Re: no data would be stored for longer than a few seconds

        Following this logic:

        If you really care about being tracked:

        - Don't go to stores

        - Don't shop online

        - Only pay cash

        - Don't visit London (or the UK in general)

        - Don't visit China

        - Don't drive where there are traffic cameras

        - Avoid police officers who have body cameras

        - Don't fly

        - Don't take the bus

        - Don't use public roadways

        - Don't use the internet

        - Don't get a passport

        - Don't borrow books from a library

        - Don't use Facebook

        - Don't get a mobile phone

        - Avoid others who have mobile phones

        - Don't get smart devices

        - Avoid visiting people who have smart devices

        - etc, etc

        At some point we have to consider drawing a line. We're at a juncture. Either we take the plunge and go all-in or we pull back while we still can.

        The trouble with liberal democracy is that what's acceptable is determined by consensus. At the moment that falls on the side of a lot of freedoms. It's not hard to imagine how easily this could change - and the next regime will immediately have access to the most comprehensive surveillance system in the history of mankind.

        1. Efer Brick

          Re: no data would be stored for longer than a few seconds

          I hear the moon is nice this time of year.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: At some point we have to consider drawing a line

          noble, but naive. You can draw as many lines as you want. I can agree with those lines as much as I want. THEY, the authorities ignore the lines as much as they want. It's because a huge majority of people don't give a flying fuck, and when they do, it's way too late, they're on a short, unbreakable leash.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: no data would be stored for longer than a few seconds

      This presumably must be false - there surely will be data in the form of a generated log entry saying something along the lines of "passenger $NAME image matched when passing the gates"; and it will need to persist for much longer in order to manage the airport, the boarding, and the flight effectively.

      1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: no data would be stored for longer than a few seconds

        In the event of a 'worse case scenario' it would seem eminently desirable to have that forensic data to assist in determining exactly how that came about.

        I would guess it is just typical boilerplate bullshit.

      2. jmch Silver badge

        Re: no data would be stored for longer than a few seconds

        "a generated log entry saying something along the lines of "passenger $NAME image matched when passing the gates"; and it will need to persist for much longer in order to manage the airport, the boarding, and the flight effectively."

        Yes, but the log entry doesn't need to store the image, just the name. I presume the scenario you describe already happens during the current barcode-scanning boarding process. It will need to persist 'much longer' than a few seconds - I presume until after flight has boarded (or at most after it has safely landed at the destination), at which point the data is no longer needed* and can be permanently deleted at a detail level (airport will probably want to retain a log that at least says 'x out of y passengers booked on flight abc were boarded' on a per-flight basis ).

        Though I presume the airport would hang on to it because, hey, data! (and the cops / TLAs might be interested in lists of booked-but-not-boarded passengers)

    4. Woodnag

      Re: no data would be stored for longer than a few seconds

      "no data is stored for longer than a few seconds during the trial", because it's immediately shipped to outside NSA/GCHQ servers, and further analysis done there.

  3. batfink Silver badge

    Of course they'd like to implement this

    It's the same as Self-service supermarket queues. The objective is to get the paying punters to do the work themselves (in this case by smiling nicely for the cameras), while reducing your own workforce and therefore overheads.

    Who said we only care about increasing our profits?

    IIRC a few years ago there was a trial of tracking people around airports by their mobile phone location. This was actually a good idea on the surface, as it enabled the airlines to easily find those fuckwits who are too busy shopping/pissing up in the bar to notice that they should actually be on their plane.

    Naturally, nobody signed up for this "service" though.

    1. OrientalHero

      Re: Of course they'd like to implement this

      "in this case by smiling nicely for the cameras"

      I thought one of the guidelines of an eligible passport photo is that you're not supposed to smile.

      (looked it up - "have a plain expression and your mouth closed")

      So you must be advocating the "public disobedience" option ;)

      1. Baldrickk Silver badge

        Re: Of course they'd like to implement this

        Me when younger: "But I'm usually smiling! - besides, if I'm off on holiday, then I'm definitely smiling"

  4. alain williams Silver badge

    I know that it is supposed to be faster ...

    but it, somehow, makes me feel uneasy.

    I went through this coming into Luton last night*, it didn't work and I was let in by a border guard who smiled.

    * The CERN open weekend was great in spite of the queues.

  5. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Stop

    Why would this be faster?

    but at least you'll be able to board faster at Gatwick

    Invariably boarding time is limited by the queue formed by passengers after they've show their boarding pass. Getting people to board in order (from the back) and staggered has been shown to be much faster than letting the idiots choose their own order of boarding, which is even worse when seats aren't pre-allocated by airlines trying to make more money by charging for the privilege.

    So, this is merely about being able to have fewer people at the airports. Granted, most of their work is low-skilled, but even so there's almost always something they need to fix.

    1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

      Re: Why would this be faster?

      I completely agree. Easyjet already have a paid extra called "Speedy Boarding" that I can't really see the point of other than letting people feel a little bit superior than everyone else considering that all you end up doing is sitting on the plane for longer while everyone else gets on; it's not like you are getting to your end destination any quicker is it.

      To be fair to EJ though, their current check in process using the self service machines at Gatwick seems to work really well and always seems to get me into the food hall much quicker than standing in a queue.

      I have no problem with FR in this instance, as long as those images are not then being forwarded to law enforcement, or held permanently. The problem being that I can't see how this not happening will be prevented as a logical natural extension made of the ground of "security" is that images of those on-board will end up being sent to the immigration people at your airport of arrival. Who knows what happens then...

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Why would this be faster?

        The biggest benefit I find is having a fair chance to get your hand luggage (a laptop bag in my case) in the overhead locker at least somewhere close to where your seat is.

        In this age of having to pay for hold luggage, many people naturally bring their suitcases as hand luggage and so things fill up all too quickly, and as they're too large to go under the seats the excess have to be tagged and loaded into the hold anyway (delaying the flight even more).

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Why would this be faster?

          I can't remember which one, but one of the US companies has the opposite policy: you pay for cabin luggage. As a result they have the fastet boarding and fewer passenger-induced delays as a result.

          The marketing whizzes who came up with differential pricing which forces upselling for standard services were only trying to reduce the amount they pay to airports, which meant they could trail lower fares. Would have been easy enough for the CAA to stop by saying: all airlines have to pay the same passenger and luggage handling fees. By not doing so they opened the door for subsidies as airports started to undercut each other in order to get traffic.

          1. jmch Silver badge

            Re: Why would this be faster?

            "one of the US companies has the opposite policy: you pay for cabin luggage"

            That's pretty clever, at least on short-haul flights - I presume that cabin space and boarding time is at a premium compared to baggage handling. Long-haul travellers tend to stay for longer and therefore have lots of baggage.

            1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
              Black Helicopters

              Re: Why would this be faster?

              Cabin baggage is always slower than hold baggage which is largely automated.

              But, airports want people to buy as much shit as possible to carry on, which is why they consistently reject repealing restrictions of liquids that people can bring into airports, despite there being no evidence that this would affect security. In any case, it's not as if the determined terrorist with basic chemistry couldn't cobble together something with items from duty free. Especially if they work out how to open the emergency oxygen supply: who needs oxidising agents when you've got the real thing? Guess we're just lucky that most terrorists are stool pigeons.

              Presumably, there'll shortly be a knock on my door for divulging this dangerous and subversive information.

        2. Korev Silver badge

          Re: Why would this be faster?

          The biggest benefit I find is having a fair chance to get your hand luggage (a laptop bag in my case) in the overhead locker at least somewhere close to where your seat is.

          Or actually in the cabin at all...

          I normally buy Speedy Boarding because it means you can take a second smaller bag in the cabin. In my case my camera, lenses and other toys are in the locker and the my much smaller bag is for clothes.

      2. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: Why would this be faster?

        I regularly take Ryanair flights to Milan to see my ladyfriend's family, and now we always have "Priority Boarding", because that's the only one you get a reasonable sized carry on bag. We always wait until everyone else has gone through the gate, then get up and board. The priority part of it is pointless, since they now limit how many customers can put their luggage in the overhead bins, so there is really no point in boarding first, the cabin crew will always find a place for your bag.

      3. Baldrickk Silver badge

        Re: Why would this be faster?

        I can't remember who's it was now, but I remember a comedy skit that said the exact same thing. - that they would have been better off not paying for speedy boarding and avoiding the queue as everyone did the same.

        Last time I flew, they ignored it completely, and just let everyone on at once anyway.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: as long as those images are not then being forwarded to law enforcement

        but that's the whole point, law enforcement would, WILL and most probably already ARE the first to get hold of the data, for all obvious reasons.

    2. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Why would this be faster?

      "So, this is merely about being able to have fewer people at the airports. "

      There's one more reason which is alluded to in the article in GA's response: people can spend more time away from the immediate gate area 'relaxing', or, in plain English, they have more time to spend money in airport shops so GA can up the airport shop rent

    3. elaar

      Re: Why would this be faster?

      Besides, if this technology enables faster boarding of the aircraft, then isn't this solving a problem of their own making, which is not employing enough people to check passports to begin with?

      So essentially they're stating it's to our advantage that they're using facial recognition technology (with inherent privacy concerns) because they don't want to employ enough staff to handle the traditional checking.

  6. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Who are you?

    I just hope these boarding gates are better than the ePassport ones coming in.

    I fly from Gatwick at least twice a month on business (it's my local airport, within a few miles of home), and literally 90% or more of the time those ePassport gates don't recognise me and I end up going to the rejects border agent anyway. Oddly though it's only UK airports that have this issue (I get the same on the long-haul's when I need to use Heathrow), as similar machines abroad normally work without issue.

    As yet I've never had a flight go from LGW gate 107 (the one EJ were using for the trial) but I guess with this announcement it's only a matter of time before I do end up there or one of its upcoming siblings.

    Almost as if the UK Government is trying to hint at something?

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Who are you?

      My experience is the opposite. Never a problem with the UK gates, US ones work sometimes, French airports won't even let you use the gates if you haven't got a French passport (despite the signs saying "all biometric passports"). Maybe my face fits some UK norm?

    2. stratofish

      Re: Who are you?

      I haven't had one of those machine work yet at Gatwick or Heathrow. I travel a bit less than you but still 2-3 trips a year.

      One of the immigration guys once told me it might be the combination of common first and last names I have and I know someone with the same name has been deported from the US as when I got pulled into a back room there once they actually gave me the courtesy of saying why after it was all cleared up that it wasn't me.

      I had been thinking of trying a freedom of information request to see if I could find out more or possibly get it changed if it is unfairly profiling by name. It is still faster to go through it and use the failed attempt desks than the full non-EU passport control but it is a pain to have to do it every single time and especially as my travelling companions go through without issue and have to wait around for me.

  7. JDX Gold badge

    What time is saved?

    When you are boarding a plane, it takes 2-3s for someone to check your boarding pass. You then end up queuing to get into the plane and to your seat - surely there isn't a bottleneck here? We'll just move the queue/scrum of people to the other side of the desk!

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: What time is saved?

      Indeed.

      And this won't change whilst the current sneak is in place by the airports. They of course now all have their metrics and targets, including "boarding on time".

      The problem is that "boarding" is classed to have begun once they scan your boarding pass and let you through the gate. So these days they do that normally at least 5-10 minutes before the plane is ready, hence you end up with the queue on the other side whilst the cabin crew are running around doing their best with the mess that the previous self-loading cargo have left behind.

      So the airports get their targets met (or more accurately they're closer to meeting them), and normally the cattle are left standing in a boiling/freezing (depending on season) jetway whilst the cabin crew are running around pickup empty bottles and other litter from the floor and seat pockets.

      Of course the airlines have their dodges too (e.g. the EJ website lists the LGW-GVA flight as 90 minutes, when every time the pilot announces it as 70 mins (and usually achieves around that, with the 20 minutes being the regular delay added to the time allocated between boarding commencing and wheels actually leaving the ground).

      So in the end the whole game is being rigged, and it's the punters once again who cop for the issues and delays.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: What time is saved?

        "(e.g. the EJ website lists the LGW-GVA flight as 90 minutes, when every time the pilot announces it as 70 mins (and usually achieves around that, with the 20 minutes being the regular delay added to the time allocated between boarding commencing and wheels actually leaving the ground)."

        I think you're working on a misunderstanding there. I have long ago noticed this discrepancy with every airline on every flight (back in the days when I flied very frequently). My guess is that official "flight" times quoted by airlines, airplanes, booking sites etc are "gate-to-gate", ie include taxiing time, and what the pilot announces is the *actual* flight time ie take-off to landing.

        1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: What time is saved?

          Not according to the pilot I had quite a lengthy chat with when I last had a delayed (and in the end cancelled) flight. And my comparison is between what is listed on the app (and also given on our information provided to our travel booking team - this is corporate travel) vs what is said over the PA on the plane.

          He was that rarity who once we'd been deplaned (the air con on the plane had broken, so they couldn't leave us sat on it) actually came out to the gate and explained what had happened (sensor in the wing was reading faulty, and given what the heat is basically being dumped into the fuel stored there it wasn't a good idea to risk it).

          Once he'd dealt with all the irate people who thought this was his personal fault, he was stood around so I made the point of actually thanking him for coming out and talking to us, and we then had a chat for a fair while and this was one of the topics that came up (as I took the opportunity to ask). He admitted that they have that spare time built into the schedule specifically to allow for catch-up if things go wrong.

          And indeed on rare occasions I have actually known flights land ahead of schedule (even on short haul) where for once the self-loading cargo did so with reasonable efficiency.

  8. M7S
    Pint

    And when the system breaks down

    As IT systems occasionally have been known to do, will there be a rapidly implemented and effective alternative procedure “on tap”?

    Icon for where those caught up in any failure would probably prefer to wait

  9. NonSSL-Login
    Big Brother

    Besides the security services siphoning off the data for their own uses, I cynically suspect the real reason is so people have more time in an area of the airport where they can spend money and make the airport more profit.

    1. Dabooka

      Well you're not being cynical there.

      I mean they even refer to that very thing in the statement at the bottom of the article.

  10. Drew Scriver Bronze badge

    The infamous 90%

    "More than 90 per cent of those interviewed said they found the technology extremely easy to use"

    Right. Probably the same 90% of people believe Facebook is the best thing ever. People tend to also simply not understand how far-reaching this technology can be.

    Lastly, what questions were asked and how? Is it too far-fetched to think this was essentially a Facebook-like survey where the options were essentially limited to "like" - either by the answers or by the questions. Or the absence of questions that might actually lead people to start thinking about privacy.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: The infamous 90%

      First rule of surveys: always craft them to maximise desirable answers, avoid/minimise undesirable answers.

  11. Philip Mather
    FAIL

    Actually experienced it...

    I know this is against the rules of the Internet but I actually experienced this trial.

    First off, they clearly hadn't got access to any other database, "Team" were mashing the "this passport matches this person" button on the manual gateway. My ePassport worked at all stages except this one.

    The line of gates were just in front of the seating area pre-boarding, once through there was clearly no intention that you leave. There were no toilets. There were also not enough seats for everyone to sit down. You can imagine.

    Random child tailgates perfect stranger as they scan through.

    Another unrelated child backs away as parent walks through having lost concentration because of extra gateway.

    Original random child miraculously teleports back outside the barrier without warning, or parents who have now gotten into the area.

    "Team" goes into meltdown, hilarity ensues.

    Did not remove either my beard or my wrap -around Oakleys whilst "Team" manually confirmed I matched my passport and stored photo?

    Can't see this working myself, can see people getting very, very annoyed.

  12. DrDudd

    I think we should be checking the identity of all those who are checking our identities...

    Simple - all public citizens carry cameras with face recognition technology. When stopped by the police the AI may detect that the officer is in fact a wanted criminal and you can get off scot free. If all police, traffic wardens, MPs, civil servants etc., were required by law to have THEIR identities checked by the public then how fast would the tech disappear? We can use the technology to check the identity of our Prime Minister and chuck him in the clink when he is identified as a 16th century village idiot called Potato Bloke - but that would be a rare case of the tech actually working!

  13. joeW Silver badge

    Hope they've ironed out the bugs

    A friend of mine (of Chinese ancestry) tried the scanners at Gatwick some time ago when they were first being trialed.

    The machine kept flashing up a message to the effect of "Please open your eyes fully and try again".

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Hope they've ironed out the bugs

      Publicly commissioned IT in the UK never works as specified: this has been written into every contract since 1844.

    2. dubious

      Re: Hope they've ironed out the bugs

      Flew into HIA once just behind a flight from Korea. The immigration system also had the 'open eyes!' thing which took down a gate as the staff couldn't overide it. All the staff thought this was hilarious. You could actually see the supervisor switch to panic mode as the Koreans started reaching the other desks.

      That was a particularly long evening in Qatar's already legendary immigration queue.

  14. Not Enough Coffee

    "Ah, my time to shine." - Evil Twin

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    passengers found the tech easy to use

    yeah, gmail is easy to use too. And FREE! Ah, the glory of free and easy to use, who can resist THAT?!

    Q: what's easy to use, easy to lose?

    A: your biometrics

  16. m-k

    more time enjoying the shops

    BINGO! Although it's not about people enjoying the shops, it's the airport enjoying more profit from people enjoying the shops.

  17. Robert D Bank

    No escape

    where are the camera's located? If they're at the gate you HAVE to go through then presumably you'll be face scanned regardless as your passport itself is scanned.

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