[Dave Birch] I can testify to the fact the the IRIS system at Heathrow was broken again this week.  I’ve been flying quite a bit recently, and I can’t actually remember the last time that it was working.  Surely one of the fundamental problems — as people like me are always saying — is that it is doing a 1:N match against a central database instead of a 1:1 match against a local token (such as an e-passport, which they are already issuing but without any useful functionality for citizens).  Whenever the communications get interrupted or the central database crashes, the whole scheme is out.  Anyway, I was mildly annoyed this time because I had to stand in an even bigger line than usual to get through UK passport control and I was in a hurry because the plane was late arriving.  I did consider pretending to be an asylum seeker from Madeupistan, because I thought that line looked shorter, but in the end I just stood in line and waited and fumed.

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This extract from article from a couple of weeks ago in the New Scientist makes depressing reading, I think.  Especially if, like me, you found the system useful…

You register at the airport by looking into a camera that stores your iris pattern and passport number. Our first attempt at registering failed, however, because the official in charge of the camera at London’s Heathrow airport could not remember the PIN needed to work his machine… A second try a few weeks later was successful. So on the way back into Heathrow after our travels we smugly left our friends in a long passport queue, went into the IRIS cubicle and looked into the camera. After many failed attempts… the machine lost patience and told us to leave. An official appeared and said the malfunction might be down to the machine thinking our suitcase was a child being smuggled through (my emphasis added) …After a third failed attempt, the official reappeared and said spectacles must be the problem… By this time all our friends had long since shown their passports, sailed through and were waiting with mocking smiles on their faces.  The IRIS machine screen was now also showing a Windows message, "Symantec PC Anywhere – Unknown error"…

As an aside, I flew in to Gatwick last week and somehow — I have absolutely no idea how — I took a wrong turn on the way to passport control and I found myself in UK arrivals.  In other words, I entered the UK from another EU country without going through either passport control or customs.  It’s a good job I had hand luggage only otherwise I’ve no idea how I would have got my bags.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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