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Biometric Technology In The UK: The Emerging Trends

Categories Industry Insights

This is a guest post by Paul Coombes, Head of Commercial (EMEA) for Argus Global

In the UK, we see the use of Biometric Identification systems being deployed by more and more public and private institutions in more expanded applications. In particular, the UK Border Agency is advancing the use of biometric identification, and so too are British primary and secondary schools. Businesses are following suit, as the benefits of biometric technology become apparent.

Biometrics in UK Schools

In May 2012, the BBC reported that about 33% of secondary schools in the UK were requiring parents to identify themselves with biometric identification systems. The Independent has recently reported that over a million secondary school pupils are being fingerprinted, with four out of ten schools now using biometric technology for identification of personnel.

According to Sion Humphreys, policy adviser to the National Association of Head Teachers, “Schools can find this technology extremely useful to help efficiently administer systems like cashless catering and borrowing library books. As a result, the use of biometrics is likely to become more widespread.”

Currently the most popular system is that of fingerprint recognition, and this is being seen more regularly across the UK and Europe. Biometric identification systems are becoming more sophisticated as the technology evolves, and are expanding beyond fingerprints in many sectors.


Back in 2006, the UK introduced ePassports. These include a microchip that stores a digital image of the photograph together with all key biographical details of the holder. There had been a plan to introduce fingerprint data to all standard UK passports in 2012, but the Coalition Government blocked this initiative when it came to power.

When questioned about the introduction of ePassports, Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said, “The greater assurance and integrity offered by the e-passport enables border control authorities worldwide to spend more time dealing with higher risk passengers. Accessing the data held on the e-passport automatically enables UK Border Force officers to use their time more efficiently on improved security and fraud checks, making our border even more secure. Additionally, the UK Border Agency is encouraging e-passport holders to use the facial recognition gates currently being trialled in the UK, providing the travelling public with an easier passage through the controls.”

The “second generation” ePassport was meant to include fingerprint data for all passport holders in the UK, but idea was dropped by Home Secretary Theresa May and her department. On September 6th 2010, she said in Parliament, “The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) remains committed to the use of facial biometrics in passports. There are no current plans to introduce a second biometric such as fingerprints into passports.”

Residence Permits

In November 2008, the UK Border Agency introduced Biometric Residence Permits. These applied to foreign nationals of countries outside the European Union who were granted leave to remain in the UK.

Under these regulations, people over the age of six are required to provide 10 fingerprints plus a digital photograph – similar to the regulations in other countries across Europe. The UK is not bound to the same laws as other European countries in terms of passports, but there is a drive to fall into line to prevent UK controls being seen as substandard.

Public & Private Sectors

In the UK, Biometric identification systems are commonly used for a number of purposes, including (but not limited to):

– Payment processing
– Customer loyalty schemes
– Automated cash dispensers
– Access to secured areas
– Passports
– Visas
– Work permits
– Healthcare
– Gyms and leisure centres
– Driving licensing
– Voting
– Welfare

The acceptance of biometric technology as a viable method is definitely a slow-burner, but it is taking hold in the UK and across the rest of Europe. The pursuit of ultimate convenience in everyday life, combined with the very real threat of crime and identity theft, means that various sectors are embracing biometrics.

The Future of Biometrics in Britain

We live in a complex world. Mistaken identities lead to everything from identity theft to acts of terror. The British Government and UK businesses recognise the need for more thorough forms of identification.

We are likely to see an increasing variety of industries making use of biometrics as it becomes more reliable and more affordable. A couple of examples; In the healthcare industry, biometric technology is an excellent way to ensure proper patient identification, and this is being implemented in more and more hospitals. For the leisure industry, fingerprint identification is now being used in gyms to ensure that only members can access the facilities.

Whilst there are always concerns among the public about the security of their data, if the regulations are met consistently, we will see increasing trust in biometric technology in Britain and other countries around the world.

DISCLAIMER: BiometricUpdate.com blogs are submitted content. The views expressed in this blog are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BiometricUpdate.com.

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