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Government tests biometrics at border control points

Iris scans and fingerprint technology trialled

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The government is testing a series of technologies as part of its "e-Borders" programme, to control entry to the UK and monitor departures overseas.

More than 60,000 UK citizens have participated in a programme that uses biometric data to process people faster through immigration and passport controls.

The Iris Recognition Immigration System, or IRIS, stores a person's iris pattern and passport details in a database, which enables them to be assessed as they pass through border controls electronically without a face-to-face encounter. The government said it had used the technology with 210,000 border crossings since its debut in March 2006.

At Heathrow Airport, passengers tested the miSense program, which encompassed a check-in kiosk and a different biometric electronic immigration system named miSenseplus, said Stephen Challis, head of product development for BAA, which runs the airport.

The check-in kiosk used biometric data to verify passengers from check-in through to boarding. The kiosk scans the number and letter code on the first page of a passport along with the passenger's fingerprint. Before boarding, the passenger has to pass through a miSense gate again and pass another fingerprint scan. About 2,000 people used the kiosk during its trial at the Emirates and Cathay Pacific ticket desks.

The immigration part of the program, miSenseplus, took more biometric data: a retinal scan, 10 fingerprints and a facial scan. About 1,000 people used the system to electronically pass through immigration in London, Dubai and Hong Kong, BAA said.

The miSense and miSenseplus trials ended on 28 February, while the IRIS project is ongoing. Damon Hunt, press officer for BAA, said both technologies remain under evaluation by the government and could not detail future plans. "All I can say is that we are exceptionally pleased," Hunt said.

Also ongoing is Project Semaphore, another test component of e-Borders that will run until March 2008. The project checks passenger names against government law enforcement databases before they arrive in the UK. So far, 800 people have been arrested as a result of the checks, according to the Home Office.

Privacy International, a human rights group, has expressed concern over how long passenger data will be stored. The UK government has only said it wants to keep passenger data for a "reasonable" amount of time in order to trace terrorist movements.

The UK has not released the cost of e-Borders, but analysts such as Ovum estimate it could be up to £500m based on the cost of the similar US-VISIT programme. The UK has shortlisted two consortiums to provide the systems: BT Emblem, which includes Lockheed Martin and Hewlett Packard; and Trusted Borders, including Raytheon, Accenture and Capgemini. The winner will be picked later this year.

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