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Britain to Introduce Face Scans at Airports

British border officials are to introduce new facial recognition technology at airports this summer in a bid to boost security and ease overcrowding. They plan to set up unmanned gates where British and European Union passengers with biometric passports will have their faces scanned and matched with the image on the computer chip in their passports. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report from London.

The plan was revealed in the Guardian daily newspaper Friday. The paper says the trials were approved at a conference in London this week including international biometrics industry executives, top civil servants in border control, and police technology experts. It quotes a British Border Agency saying a machine can do a better job of scanning passports and exposing identity fraud than humans.

An official at the Border Agency, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, confirmed the Guardian story. A statement released to VOA quotes Immigration Minister Liam Byrne calling Britain's border security as among the toughest in the world.

He said that if the automatic gates work, they will be installed at all key airports.

But Phil Booth of No2ID, an organization campaigning against the introduction of ID cards in Britain, says the new technology is just another intrusion by the government.

"The technologies that the government introduces that they say are about security are nothing of the sort," he said. "It's security theater. It's trying to bamboozle people with some new bits of technology and say it's about security when in fact it's about just gathering and sharing more of your information without your knowledge and consent."

Booth says the technology, besides being more data gathering by the government on citizens, is not efficient.

"Our understanding from industry, speaking with people who supply this sort of recognition systems is that they simply don't perform well enough in real world situations for them to recognize people in a queue," he added.

He also criticized the introduction at a time when some high profile cases concerning the loss of personal data by the government have come to light. Last November two computer disks containing personal and financial data of some 25 million Britons disappeared after a junior employee of the British Revenue and Customs Office sent them to an audit office using an internal mail service.

At least eight million Britons hold biometric passports. The computer chips in them hold the carriers' facial details.

Citizens of the European Economic Area - the European Union and Norway, Switzerland and Iceland - who have biometric passports would be able to use the automated gates.