Travellers to be screened by facial technology
at British airports
European air travellers to Britain will be screened with automatic facial recognition technology from this summer in a bid to tighten security and ease congestion, the government said Friday.
Citizens of Britain and all European Economic Area countries will pass through unmanned clearance gates which will scan passengers' faces and compare them to data held on their biometric passports.
"Britain's border security is now among the toughest in the world and tougher checks do take time, but we don't want long waits," junior Home Office (interior ministry) minister Liam Byrne said.
"So the UK Borders Agency will soon be testing new automatic gates for British and European Economic Area citizens. We will test them this year and if they work, put them at all key ports."
The European Economic Area includes all 27 European Union countries as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
According to The Guardian newspaper, the technology being used has been programmed to err on the side of caution to ensure that travellers on security services' watch lists are not allowed to freely pass through.
Because of that, some innocent passengers may be held up and redirected if the clearance gates cannot match their faces to the records on their passports.
The newspaper said the government had not yet decided on how many airports would take part in the initial trial this year.
A Home Office spokesman told AFP that the ministry would publish details of how the technology worked, as well as where and when it would be deployed "in the near future", but did not elaborate.
Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse.