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back to article Border Agency comes out with another e-Borders deadline

The UK government has defended its under-fire Border Agency after MPs blasted the e-Borders passenger-scrutinising system as broken and its £9m iris scanners a waste of money. The written response to a Parliamentary select committee's report on the agency does make some concrete promises including extending the e-Borders …

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FAIL

IRIS was brilliant

IRIS was far better than the shite e-passport machines which forever have queues of people stood around them looking aimlessly at the ceiling instead of looking-at-the-bloody-camera.

It was quicker and didnt even need to get your passport out of your pocket, which made it a bit 'cool' - thats probably the government cancelled it, it was just too efficient.

I'm amazed that the Dutch e-passport machines (that have never seen me before) can process me far quicker than the e-passport pants that we've now implemented.

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Re: IRIS was brilliant

In my experience IRIS was actually a bit pants - rather slow, didn't recognize me if I wore specs instead of contact lenses, 50% out of order rate on the gates, and towards the end there were way too many people registered for the two gates per terminal.

However, it was actually better than queuing up to talk to a doughbag - quicker and less hassle.

What makes IRIS look good is that the e-----gates (as it seems they are now known) are just utter shite. I don't know if the tech solution is mediocre or just poorly configured, but the actual implementation at the airport is farcically incompetent. Replace the space of 4 normal manned desks with:

- 2 people herding victims to the e-----gates

- 2 people manually handling those rejected by the machines

- 3 expensive machines that seem no better than the old IRIS machines

All in order all to achieve the same throughput as two manned desks. At least the UK Border Farce is living up to its name....

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FAIL

I came in through "nah, lewt'n airport" 2 weeks ago with my brand new UK passport (**) and had to place it on a scanner machine just before the Passport Control desks. Not one person with the new style UK Passport had it understood by the machine and we all had to troop through to have the human beings check it.

Schiphol (Amsterdam) airport's Privium card system, however, hasn't given me a problem in the years that I've had one ; a simple eye scan and hello Mr Queuejumper.

(**) Had renewed it 'cos it had less than 6 full months remaining ; should've waited a few more weeks eh?

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Silver badge
FAIL

Just got my new 48-page passport ...

and I seethe RFID is still readable for many metres.

Popped over to a vendors press shop and it is an RFID no longer. Up yours, May, why not use short-range units? Like the Americans?

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Unhappy

IRIS was excellent.

Will be missed. None of the other systems I've seen seem to have the same throughput.

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The cheek!

" the data gathered from the iris scanner trials was useful in helping them decide not to use Iris scanners any more"

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My prediction?

Fingerprinting to come.

"UNABLE TO PROCESS" when someone with 4 fingers and 1 eye arrives at Immigration.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: My prediction?

It's not like any 'undesirables' have hooks instead of hands though is it :-)

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Anonymous Coward

The reason IRIS was dumped...

...is because hardly anybody used it, there's a reason it is super quick.... very few people registered for it... a LOT less than were expected to use it. It was a lot of money spent for very little impact on queues, the business case to keep it just didn't stand up. The main issues were that:

a) people weren't compelled to register their eyeballs with the system, so didn't

b) those that might want to register for it voluntarily, either didn't know about the system or didn't know how to register

As a result the system never processed the passenger numbers that were required to make it viable.

It's still the favourite system for everyone at UKBA that passes through Heathrow, as it's much quicker than either the e-Passport gates or the attended gates.

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Unhappy

Re: The reason IRIS was dumped...

And the reason hardly anybody used it was that registration was:

a) generally located somewhere in the bowels of the airport between the closet full of spare bogbrushes and the sniffer dog kennel

b) usually open from 1028 to 1115 unless there was an "R" in the month or a "T" in the day, in which case it was shut

I used to be a pretty frequent traveller ,and it still took me months before I hit the magic combination of having enough spare time, being in the airport during the normal day (rather than ridiculously early or late), the office being open, and there not being a lengthy queue. The fact they had more than a handful of people registered is a testament to how desperate travellers are to escape the snaky barrier maze.

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Does Turning Off the IRIS System Represent a Failure?

I admit the gates were not perfect and did require some getting used to in order to navigate your way through quickly.

But I think the systems were far from a failure, and the reality is a little bit more subtle than the headlines may suggest.

Let’s not forget the system was originally introduced in 2004, initially as a pilot. At this time, such use of Iris technology was fairly innovative. That the footprint of the pilot was gradually extended and became a permanent system is indicative that the system was fairly well received. The fact that over 380,000 people have voluntarily enrolled (myself included) makes it difficult to argue that the system is derided.

In my opinion, the turning off of the system at these two locations is more in line with a planned phasing out of this particular solution, for some rather more mundane reasons:

1. The system no longer fits border-automation strategy in the UK moving forward. It has largely been replaced by the momentum to accommodate EU e-Passports holders,whose passports hold an electronic copy of their face photographic.

2. As innovative as the technology was in 2004, it is now woefully out-of-date. Iris technology has moved on leaps-and-bounds in the 8 years since (as demonstrated by the Iris-at-a-distance e-gate solutions for departing passengers at Gatwick airport). The initial investment undoubtedly has long since been written off, and the technology needs a refresh.

3. The initial deployment was meant to be limited, and the contract has undoubtedly been extended numerous times. A complete and expensive technology refresh (as is required) without an open and competitive re-tender would undoubtedly not rest on firm legal ground.

4. The business model was never well thought out. It is completely funded by the UK government and can be used by any nationality completely free of charge.

This Iris system is intended for pre-registered Trusted Travellers, who are pre-vetted before they can use the system. At point of use, it is a 1:n Iris check and no travel documents are required.

Since the system has been deployed, most European Union (EU) nations have deployed e-Passports and an ever-increasing percentage of the EU population is now carrying a chip passport. The Iris gates have been gradually been superseded by a new breed of e-Gates that:

- are for EU passport holders only.

- do not require pre-enrolment.

- perform a 1:1 face check against the JPG on the passport chip.

These gates are now being widely deployed at UK ports of entry and seemingly form the backbone of the government’s strategy for automated passenger clearance. This is only natural, as by far the bulk of passengers entering the UK are EU citizens.

If the remaining Iris gates are end-of-life’d, this will clearly leave a hole in the border automation strategy, mainly those passengers that:

- are not EU citizens.

- are EU citizens but do not yet have an e-passport.

Arguably, the second of the two will become less of a problem as time passes, as holders of older passports have their passports renewed.

The former, however, will form a minority of arriving passengers, and the business case for the government to provide a free-to-use Trusted Traveler system remains vague. More likely than not, any replacement system will take the form of a paid subscription requiring a pre-enrollment with vetting.

Ideally, given the limited space available airports, the best scenario would involve these passengers using the same physical e-gates as EU passport holders.

In my view, allowing these systems to reach their end-of-life is not an argument for the failure of biometrics deployed at the border. The fact that a system that was only ever meant to have a limited deployment lasted this long and was only replaced by a government strategy that is more harmonised across EU nations, is a testament to the value this technology provides.

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Anonymous Coward

UKBA???

Surely the author would have checked out who is responsible for it? Which would be Border Force not UK Border Agency.

I wouldn't necessarily trust the remainder of the capabilities mentioned and the associated delivery timescales either...It may already be there ;) Then again it may not.

For obvious reasons anon and no specific details....

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UKBA the problem not the Iris scanners

The iris scanners worked great for me and even registration wasnt too bad until my registration expired and all the offices had been closed and no new registrations being taken and this was for at least 18 months until they officially announced the nd of the scanners. Hard to get the traffic if you refuse to open up to get users registered.

The workers at UKBA seem nice enough it's the politicians like Theresa (it's not my fault) May that need to be taken outside the border and left there.

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