Wednesday, June 16, 2004

UK Airports will get iris-recognition immigration screening within a year :: :: e-Government & public sector IT news from

UK Airports will get iris-recognition immigration screening within a year :: :: e-Government & public sector IT news from


Home Office Immigration Minister, Des Browne announced has said that technology will be put in to 'revolutionise' the UK's immigration controls, with the roll-out of a biometric iris recognition system to a number of key UK airports.

The biometric identification system will store and verify the iris patterns of specially selected groups of travellers, giving confirmation of their identity when they arrive in the UK. The Home Office says this will be a 'watertight' identification method, but there are numerous indicators which suggest there will be a small but definite percentage of false positives and false negatives - errors where the system may simply get it wrong. Iris recognition technology is not foolproof.

The Home Office suggests that this measure will substantially increase security as well as speed the process through immigration control. There are numerous arguments to the contrary, whose proponents include organisations such as Privacy International, opposed to UK national ID cards.

The Home Office will roll out the programme over the next year - starting with Heathrow Airport (Terminals Two and Four) and four other airports by summer 2005. It is expected that within five years more than a million people will be registered to use the system.

Mr Browne said:
"More than ninety million people pass through our immigration controls every year. In our era of mass global travel those numbers are set to rise, with increasing numbers of people wanting to visit the UK on holiday, to study and to work. We need to ensure that our controls are robust enough to let in only those with the right to be here, and efficient enough to process legitimate passengers quickly.

"The UK's border controls are among the most secure in the world, and we are strategically deploying new technologies to further reinforce their integrity. We already use detection equipment along the northern European coastline, preventing would-be illegal immigrants before they set off for the UK. And we are developing biometric technology to further protect our borders - rolling out its use in visas, passports and eventually ID cards. Such advances were unheard of only a only few years ago - now we are exploiting their ability to make our immigration controls ever more secure."

The Home Office has signed a five year contract with Sagem SA to provide the iris recognition system. The Immigration Service will invite certain groups of foreign nationals to take part who have a track record of complying with the UK's immigration laws - for example because they live permanently in the UK, are regular travellers or are here as work permit holders. All potential participants will be carefully vetted.

The scheme announced today builds on a successful trial at Heathrow Airport in 2002. A joint project by British Airports Authority, the Immigration Service, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways, the trial registered the iris patterns of 200 selected passengers. It demonstrated the potential of the technology to increase border security, as well as being popular with passengers.

The system is to be called IRIS (Iris Recognition Immigration System), and is the first major output of the Government's 'e-Borders' programme to engage technology to modernise UK immigration controls. A marketing campaign will be launched at the end of 2004 to target non-EEA nationals who have indefinite leave to remain in the UK, are regular travellers or have long term status in the UK such as students or work permit holders.

IRIS will be installed with the support of the airport authorities at the five UK airports with the highest international arrival numbers. Birmingham, Gatwick (both terminals), Heathrow (all terminals), Manchester (Terminals 1 and 2) and Stansted.

Enrolment for the scheme will be voluntary. Immigration Officers will interview and enrol qualifying non-EEA nationals. Those deemed acceptable to enrol will have both their eyes filmed using a standard video camera in order to capture their iris patterns. This data will be stored alongside their personal details, and the enrolment process will take approximately five minutes.

Enrolled passengers will be able to enter the UK through a special immigration control incorporating an iris recognition camera.


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