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Heathrow facial recognition technology stalled

Heathrow facial recognition technology stalled

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London Heathrow's e-gate technology installation now faces yet another setback ahead of the Olympics.

England's busiest airport, London Heathrow, is unlikely to finish installing facial recognition technology at all of its five terminals as originally planned, according to the Financial Times.

Following an 18-month trial with the UK Border Agency (UKBA), BAA planned to install 'e-gates' at every terminal in the airport to allow quick self-service immigration control in time for the Olympics and ease the expected rush of those using the airport to attend the games.

E-gates use iris-scanning technology to help speed non-EU nationals through immigration control. It works by electronically comparing the face of the passenger to the one recorded on the chip in a passport. Passengers who choose to register their biometric data in advance of travel are therefore able to skip long, traditional passport-check queues and use the self-service gates instead.

The process of self-registering involves having your fingerprints scanned as well as having a photograph and signature taken. By having this information on file, the aim is to allow more rapid processing of non-EU nationals through security gates and ease the pressure Heathrow will face during peak times.

However, efforts to keep immigration queues clear for the Olympics have been put in to jeopardy due to a pending investigation in to the airport's security measures.

BAA has said that the technology is facing delays while the UK Border Agency completes an investigation into border check issues brought to light last year -- where non-EU nationals reportedly experienced lax security measures when crossing the border.

A statement issued by BAA concerning the delays said:

"BAA has installed new automated immigration clearance gates at all Heathrow terminals to improve queuing times for passengers. UKBA is responsible for border security and has been working to bring these new gates online but has paused this process while it completes internal investigations."

Until the investigation is completed, which includes finishing a UKBA database of all travelers who are to registered to use the self-service terminals, the roll-out of the scanners cannot go ahead -- potentially causing disruption at the airport over the summer months.

BAA's commercial director, John Holland-Kaye, told the Financial Times:

"We could be ready [in time for the Olympics] but this is entirely within the hands of government and what their strategy is is unclear."

London Heathrow expects a 45 percent jump in passenger numbers on the peak days of the games.

Image credit: Robert Lowe

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure