Airports to trial queue-busting biometrics

July 21, 2022


New rules regarding facial recognition technology to scan people as they travel through airports has come under question from the country’s biometrics commissioner.

Potentially, the scheme could in future allow British passport holders to skip the lengthy queues anticipated this summer by using ‘contactless’ corridors instead.

According to reports, before boarding a flight, tourists will need to give the UK government “their biographic, biometric and contact details”.

Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Material and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, Professor Fraser Sampson, argues that while the technology would be convenient for holiday-makers getting away, he posed the wider issue of consent and the use of the information surrendered.

He told SJUK: “There is always a flip-side to these announcements. While it may great for the traveller in this instance but one has to ask the question about what else will be done with the images and data that you have surrendered in the name of convenience.”

Trials are set to start on technology allowing some passengers to enter the UK and undergo automated border screening without going through an eGate or speaking to a Border Force officer.
Those passengers would be pre-screened and identified at the border in an effort the department hopes will speed up legitimate journeys to the UK.


Home Secretary Priti Patel says the aim is to ensure the border is “fit for the 21st century” and enables travellers to get a visa and pass through it easily while maintaining national security.

She said: “I am also committed to ensuring our fantastic Border Force are given access to the most up-to-date automation technologies so they can use their specialised skills on protecting our border from those who seek to harm the UK.”

But Prof Sampson countered: “How do you know you have not entered some open-ended agreement? Who are the technical partners in all of this? You need to be sure that the technical partners are companies that will behave responsibly and ethically and who are to be trusted.”

He has long argued that there are too many elements of image and data capture which remain unregulated.

Prof Sampson added: “For instance, in Scotland this would be regarded as biometric data but, in England and Wales, facial images are not regarded as such.”

A Home Office document setting out the plans says there will be rooms where people will have their faces scanned as they walk – with people not even noticing it is being done, reported The Times. It comes after a review was conducted by Australian immigration minister Alexander Downer.

Mr Downer said: “Without a doubt, everyone I met at Border Force, from the senior team to operation managers and frontline officers, are absolutely committed to serving the UK and want the organisation to improve so they can continue being the best at countering current and emerging threats.

“The recommendations I have made will have a positive impact on Border Force, making it more resilient to cope with future challenges while providing them with the direction needed to create the improvements they need.”

Professor Sampson has over 40 years’ experience working in the criminal justice sector, having served as a police officer for 19 years before becoming a solicitor specialising in policing law, conduct and governance.

He is an Honorary Professor and member of the Advisory Board at the Centre for Excellence in Terrorism, Resilience, Intelligence and Organised Crime research at Sheffield Hallam University where he gained a PHD in digital accountability in law enforcement.

He has also worked as the national chair of the Association of Police and Crime Chief Executives and was appointed CEO and solicitor to the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire in 2012, later being seconded as CEO to the Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner in North Yorkshire.

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