Be Tech Ready!!
Artificial IntelligenceData PrivacyInternet

Facial recognition might replace passports, but not soon enough

Britain plans to try out facial recognition technology that eliminates the need for passports, but experts have poured cold water on the idea of a complete rollout happening this year.

This week, Phil Douglas, the head honcho at the UK’s Border Force, revealed a new project. He spilled the beans to the Times, saying he wants to set up fancy e-gates at airports to build a “smart border.” These gates would ditch the need for physical travel documents by incorporating advanced facial verification technology. They’re planning to kick off trials for the tech sometime this year, but a complete rollout is still a bit down the road.

Andrew Bud, the big shot CEO over at the British biometric champ iProov, spilled the beans to TNW, saying, facial verification “is not going to replace passports at UK airports in 2024.” However, he’s pretty sure that the transition will definitely happen down the line. Bud knows his stuff when it comes to this tech because iProov made history by setting up the first-ever biometric corridor for train travel. It kicked off last July at Eurostar’s London terminal.

Also Read: EU wants to become the “quantum valley” of the world

The need for creating digital borders

iProov’s system swaps out those traditional border checks and instead, you just stroll right past a facial verification checkpoint. Easy as that!

Before heading out, the passenger grabs the app, verifies their ID, scans their face, and links it all up with their ticket. Once they hit St Pancras Station in London, they simply stroll through a special lane for the tech, and it checks and approves their entry. With this system, users can breeze past ticket gates and avoid the hassle of manual border control in the UK. Following a baggage check and passport inspection at the French border, they’re good to hop on the train without further ado.

“It has taught us that a lot of testing and operation at small scale is necessary first,” Bud said. “There are all sorts of practical issues that emerge and need to be sorted before large-scale operation is sensible.”

Being dependable is a big deal, especially considering the mishaps we saw with British e-gates not too long ago. A glitch last summer turned UK borders into a total mess, with airports facing four-hour queues and travel experts sounding the alarm about a potential “danger to national security.”

A recent glitch shut down the systems, forcing all passengers to go through manned airport desks. The Home Office stated the problem got fixed around 6 pm on Saturday. However, Paul Charles, a travel expert at the PC Agency, told Sky News that the underinvestment in the UK’s transport infrastructure had left these systems “hanging by a thread.”

Avoiding the use of passports

Bud emphasizes that any new system taking over must be carefully planned, set up, and run with precision.

“Real people can do the most unpredictable things — it’s pretty challenging to get right,” he said. “And the security must be very strong, with very dependable liveness detection when people enrol before departure, for example at home on their smartphones.”

Even with the hurdles, facial verification is gaining traction at borders. Take Dubai, for example – they just rolled out a biometric system that lets travelers breeze through security without needing a passport or ID. According to Major General Talal Ahmed Al Shanqiti, the Assistant General Director of Airport Passport Affairs Sector, passengers won’t need to flash their passports or IDs at the airport. They’ll sail through smoothly, thanks to a biometric system. Simply put, passengers can stroll from the terminal to the plane by just showing their face.

Al Shanqiti mentioned that the new biometric tech in Dubai airports combines facial and iris recognition. This means travelers can breeze through without needing their passport or ID. This applies to everyone—expats, Emiratis, and visitors—as long as their data has been registered with GDRFA since 2019. All the biometric info is securely stored on the GDRFA system for future travels.

With seamless travel, passengers can breeze through Passport Control in no time. They just walk through the biometric system, no exit stamp on their passports required. The facial recognition process lets them handle Passport Control without any human intervention. The new smart systems at Dubai Airports are part of GDRFA-Dubai’s push to create innovative smart services. This aligns with the leadership’s directive to incorporate advanced technologies into all government services, aiming to improve the quality of life for everyone.

But this doesn’t curb the privacy concerns

Yet, worries linger about the privacy implications. Advocates are concerned that while biometric systems may initially be used for good reasons, they could open the door to more nefarious uses. Bud, on the other hand, insists there’s a significant distinction between the various implementations.

“This is not facial recognition for identifying people, in the way the police use it,” he said. “This is facial verification, to which a user has consented, participates in the process and gets personal benefit from. They are very different legally, ethically, and technically.”

Studies indicate that the majority of travelers are on board with this tech. A survey from 2022 by the International Air Transport Association found that three-quarters of passengers are keen to switch to using biometric data instead of dealing with passports and boarding passes.

Also Read: UK doesn’t want AI to invent things; Wants it only for humans

Passengers willing to share biometric data to ease the process

A significant 37% of travelers admitted that they’ve been put off visiting certain destinations due to immigration requirements. Among the reasons, 65% pointed to the complexity of the process, 12% mentioned costs, and 8% cited time constraints.

For places where visas are needed, 66% of travelers would rather get their visa online before the trip. Meanwhile, 20% prefer hitting up the consulate or embassy, and 14% opt for sorting it out at the airport. Interestingly, 83% of travelers are willing to share their immigration info to speed up the airport arrival process. Though it’s a high percentage, it’s a tad lower than the 88% recorded in 2021.

Passengers are up for finishing some tasks before even hitting the airport. Check-in takes the lead, with 44% of travelers choosing it as their top off-airport processing preference. Immigration procedures come next at 32%, followed by dealing with baggage. Additionally, a whopping 93% of passengers are keen on a special program for trusted travelers (with background checks) to speed up security screening.

Vishal Kawadkar
About author

With over 8 years of experience in tech journalism, Vishal is someone with an innate passion for exploring and delivering fresh takes. Embracing curiosity and innovation, he strives to provide an informed and unique outlook on the ever-evolving world of technology.