Concerns have been raised about immigration controls at London’s Heathrow Airport after it was claimed security checks have been scaled back to shorten passenger queues.
Border Force agents no longer have to use facial-recognition technology on all travellers who are rejected by self-service biometric ePassport gates at Europe’s busiest airport, the Sunday Times reported.
Managers have told staff to use their discretion on whether to do a facial scan on passengers whose chipped passports are not accepted at unmanned barriers, it was claimed.
The Home Office rejected any suggestion that security has been compromised or that officers have been told not to use facial-recognition technology.
The Sunday Times quoted leaked documents and a whistleblower, who said the technology was introduced in the UK in 2010 after passengers were able to enter the country with forged documents.
When the technology was introduced staff were initially instructed to use face-recognition scans on all passengers rejected by the gates but they have now been told to ‘revert to officer discretion’.
The whistleblower suggested Border Force wants to shorten queues, especially at peak times during the holidays, so foreign visitors aren’t put off from paying to join the Registered Traveller Service.
The service is open to regular adult travellers from just under 10 countries, including Australia, Canada and the US, and it allows them to use ePassport gates and avoid the ‘all other passports’ queue at a cost of £70 for the first year and £50 for every year after that.
‘It’s just unbelievable the stuff that’s going on,’ the whistleblower told the Sunday Times. ‘We have idiots in charge. They are not really bothered about who is coming in and coming out.’
A Home Office spokeswoman told MailOnline Travel: ‘It is absolutely untrue to suggest that border security has been compromised or that officers have been told not to use facial-recognition technology.
‘It remains available to Border Force officers when assuring themselves of a passenger’s identity.
‘We use a range of advanced technology systems to check 100 per cent of people arriving in the UK. These systems ensure we keep our citizens safe and our country secure at all times.
‘EPassport gates use facial recognition technology to provide identity and security checks in a matter of seconds. This same facial-matching technology is being piloted separately for Border Force officers to use as appropriate when checking passengers – including those who are rejected by the ePassport gates.’
Lucy Moreton, general secretary of the ISU union, which represents Border Force staff, said she has not seen the document but has no reason to believe it does not exist.
She said: ‘The issue for us is the pressure that’s being placed on staff to be quicker with their checks rather than being thorough.’
She said it’s fine to leave it to the officer’s discretion on whether to use the full range of technology, but staff must not be rushed when they are checking passengers.
Around 170 ePassport gates are in use at 18 UK airports, including Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted.
Heathrow is by far the busiest UK airport with ePassport gates – handling almost 75 million passengers – both arrivals and departures – last year.
The automated gates use facial-recognition technology to check a traveller’s identity against the photo in a passport that contains a security chip.
If a passenger is rejected at a gate they must go and see a Border Force agent, who can use a second facial scan as an additional check.
A Heathrow Airport spokesman declined to respond to the claims, citing it as a matter for Border Force to comment on.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3739918/Heathrow-security-checks-scaled-shorten-passenger-queues.html#ixzz4HKgtcB1C
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