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UK officials plan face biometrics trial for passport-free border checks

Canada following suit, Vietnam not far behind
UK officials plan face biometrics trial for passport-free border checks

Travellers to the UK by air will be able to skip passport checks when using biometric gates in trials beginning this year, The Times reports.

UK Border Force Director-General Phil Douglas says the new face biometrics system will reduce friction, compared with the previous system, which also uses facial recognition.

The new implementation is based on the way face biometrics have been deployed in places like Dubai and Australia, Douglas says. It will tie in with the UK’s incoming Electronic Travel authorization (ETA) scheme and provide faster passenger processing with enhanced security, officials say. Douglas also noted the system will be connected to immigration systems to prevent ineligible travellers from boarding.

Procurement and a full launch will follow the trials, assuming success. Eventually, 270 gates will be replaced at air and rail ports. Legacy passport desks are expected to mostly be replaced over the next two to three years.

The use of biometric e-gates in the UK has already expanded to nearly a dozen countries outside of the Europe Union, after originally launching for only travellers from the UK and EU. The system suffered a massive failure during a May 2023 long weekend, delaying numerous travellers for hours.

The ETA scheme is also expanding. In place now for travellers from Qatar, nationals of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan will be eligible starting in February. Eventually it will be extended to all arrivals to the country who do not require a visa for a short visit.

Meanwhile, Channel Tunnel operator Getlink is building a dedicated area at its Kent terminal to process the biometrics of automobile passengers, who will have to depart their vehicles, to align with the EU’s impending biometric Entry/Exit System.

Trials and proposals for passport-free travel are a growing trend in international aviation.

Canada considers implementation options

Transport Canada quietly issued a request for information in October to gather suggestions for how to implement its Air Right Touch project, the National Post reports.

The Air Right Touch initiative involves the use of face biometrics to match travellers to their passport records, without using the passport itself, in line with the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) OneID concept.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is likewise exploring the use of facial recognition for border checks.

A professor quoted by the Post implies that a new database of traveller biometrics will be created, though no suggestion of such a process, which would depart from the OneID model, is made elsewhere. He also expresses concern about misidentification with reference to an intelligence agency error that did not involve face biometrics.

The RFI closed on November 17.

Vietnam authority plans biometric checks

Vietnam’s Civil Aviation Authority requested approval to continue authenticating air passengers holding ID documents with electronic chips using face biometrics, according to VietNamNet.

A December 25 briefing made the request of the Ministry of Transport, based on a proposal by the Airports Corporation of Vietnam. The airport operator is expecting to complete the procurement of ID document readers, cameras and software for Phu Bai and Cat Bi international airports and Dien Bien airport during the first quarter of 2024.

The policy applies to travellers with the chip-based IDs who agree to share their personal information and biometrics with the system.

Vietnam began issuing chip-based biometric passports in early-2023.

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