Biometrics forge ahead

[Dave Birch] I’ve said before that the introduction of biometrics into the mass market is more about convenience than security, but it seems as if the current U.K. approach is more about inconvenience (not that that’s necessarily bad)…

Members of industry body UKinbound say they are continuing to report “severe” drops in demand from travel to Britain from China, India and Russia in particular due to the time and cost of travel to visa centres. Reporting a 2.5% decline in overseas arrivals in December, the organisation said long haul travel to the UK was worst affected, with the new method of visa data collection introduced from last October being of “particular concern”.

[From Biometric entry visas hitting tourism to UK-18 February, 2008]

Now, like any other stout English yeoman, I don’t really care about foreigners being inconvenienced, but I do care about U.K. plc, which is why the connection between the introduction of biometrics and the fall in visitors caught my eye. What’s worse, though, is that the government’s approach appears to be to inconvenience stout English yeoman as well. I’m not the only person that has noticed that the biometric iris-scanning system at U.K. airports doesn’t seem to work as well as might have been imagined when the plans were being forged in the white heat of new technology:

There were about 40 people waiting to show passports and three people in the iris queue. I was iris-enabled and my colleague was not, so we decided to see who got through faster. No contest – I had not even got into the iris machine before he was waiting on the other side. Iris recognition is a clever idea, but the execution is hopeless.

[From Heathrow iris-scan queues are slower – Times Online]

I lack commitment, so I gave up using the system after it refused to let me into the country (perhaps it can read blog feeds) and therefore I can’t say whether it’s got better or worse over the last few months, but my guess would be worse because the poor performance might well be related to the size of the database as well as poor implementation.


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