back to article NAO: UK border bods not up to scratch, despite billion-pound facial recog tech

The UK Border Force's inefficient use of technology is one reason it's failing to carry out enough customs checks or detections of illegal immigrants, according to the National Audit Office. The NAO said in a report that border staff managed to cut immigration queue times down during the London Olympics, but only at the …


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  1. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. zaax

    Takes too long to use the e-gates - would have used them at Stanstead but the human queue was going faster

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They are very nice people, oh yes my friend, very nice. Now I have house, car and plenty money. Next week I being family in, mother, father, 2 nieces, 16 brothers and sisters, grandparents, great grandparents, we live good life we have big house 23 bedrooms....... Plenty money now

      1. Matt 21

        @AC 22:17

        Whilst you and other Daily Mail readers are worried about too many people with dark skin taking all "our" jobs I can't find any evidence that illegal immigration increased during the period where checks were reduced so the I think we can conclude that these irritating extra checks are not really necessary.

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Used the automatic gate at Edinburgh airport the other day for the first time. Whilst quicker than Mrs Potsherd who went through the manned gate, it did seem to take an incredibly long time to adjust to my height (short person > taller than average). Didn't especially like having to take my specs off so it could get a reading.

  3. proto-robbie

    They just...

    ...need to visit the Barras in Glasgow to meet all their targets.

  4. Richard 23

    System is way too slow

    It seems to take about 20 to 30 seconds to extract the image data from the passport chip, authenticate, decrypt, do any database searches and render the image and results on the operator's screen. That's way too slow when dealing with an arrival queue.

    Anyone with inside info on what the original performance SLA was?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Margaret Hodge?

    Are you sure?

    I didn't see any quote suggesting Google/Amazon/Vodafone/<insert corporate entity here> should pay to fix this with the tax they are avoiding....

  6. John 98

    e gate - what is the spec?

    These are quick and simple to use - except in the UK, where the huge, complicated contraption seems virtually incapable of reading UK passports (at leat not mine, nor a lot of other peoples' to judge from my recent experience at Luton). Interestingly, though, it had no problem with my wife's Dutch passport.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    facial recognition tech?

    I hope the project spec was clear and unambiguous, otherwise I suspect we are paying whoever is involved in this project to watch pr0n all day.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    E-Gate delays

    Of course, the image data has to travel all the way to an NSA bunker in New Mexico (or wherever), get cross-checked and have the response sent back to our system where it is further cross-checked against our own puny data set and finally sent to (insert- name of International airport). That's why there are delays with the system here.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: E-Gate delays

      No Such Agency is headquatered at Fort Meade (and does something that needs 75MW of juice to run)

      However the local branch office of the NSA is in sunny yorkshire at menwith hill

  9. An0n C0w4rd

    I find it odd that it is more difficult ...

    to enter my own country (the United Kingdom) at a UK border point than it is to get into Europe. Every time I've gone to Europe (France, Netherlands, Germany, ROI), the passport bod takes a cursory glance at my passport page and indicates me to move on. No RFID chip scan. No anti-counterfitting measures are checked (uv light, etc). No databases are checked.

    I enter the UK and I have to stand and wait while they read the RFID chip on my passport and do whatever it is that they do in that process.

    Security is fine when used appropriately, but is it really necessary to make all the UK passport holders wait through that process? Making the process more efficient and/or reducing the requirements could go a long way to helping the passport control queues by allowing staff to process the non-EU visitors instead of harassing the natives.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Chemist

      Re: I find it odd that it is more difficult ...

      "but is it really necessary to make all the UK passport holders wait through that process"

      We came back via Calais a couple of weeks ago, the queue was far longer than normal, each car was taking 90-180 seconds and only 3 points were manned. Because the checks take place in France and before the ferry check-in any delay can cause a missed ferry even when arriving, in this case, with an hour to spare.

      (This was, as usual, the ONLY passport check on the trip UK->France->Switzerland->Italy->Switzerland->France->UK)

    3. h3

      Re: I find it odd that it is more difficult ...

      I don't like the way even with a British Passport blacks/Muslims get more hassle than me.

      Always seems to take loads longer for them.

    4. peter 45

      Re: I find it odd that it is more difficult ...

      Catching the ferry from UK to Europe -

      At UK end, full passport check, full security check including metal detectors and about three gates before even getting to the ferry

      At european end, basically wander off into town.

      Catching ferry from Europe to Uk -

      At European end, wave the ferry ticket in vague direction of single security guard.

      At UK end, full passport check after queueing for an hour and customs pulled us over to check how much booze we were carrying (as foot passengers, just how much did they think I could get in a couple of carrier bags?)

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: I find it odd that it is more difficult ...

        That's the difference between being a citizen of a republic and a subject of a monarchy.

    5. Maharg

      Re: I find it odd that it is more difficult ... worse for me...

      Unfortunately it seems I have the same issue only worse, since my UK passport has the word Belfast under place of birth, whenever I come back to the UK with English people I tend to be the one who takes the longest, yet I am also fin on the European end, I can only guess the reason the French and others don’t care is that I am white and coming from the UK, therefore not a threat, while I bet if I had a darker skin tone and it said I was born in Morocco it might take longer.

      I guess it’s because the French know I’m more likely to smuggle thing out of their country then in, therefore not their problem, and the Brits have experience of English speaking white people with slightly different accents blowing things up.

    6. Robert Grant

      Re: I find it odd that it is more difficult ...

      but is it really necessary to make all the UK passport holders wait through that process

      This is circular; the UV scan etc is to check you are actually a UK passport holder and not a fake UK passport holder.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Rumoured to take 30mins for Border Force PC's to boot (and it's shared between about 6-8)


    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Rumoured to take 30mins for Border Force PC's to boot (and it's shared between about 6-8)

      Have the police tried booting it harder? Or tazering it?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rumoured to take 30mins for Border Force PC's to boot (and it's shared between about 6-8)

      Eminently believable given how NHS kit was installed at the local hospital, they never checked the network load or upgraded the lines, and have only one authentication server, which is remarkably busy first thing in the morning!

      Doubtless used the same liberal arts grads passed off as "tech" consultants by the usual suspects

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Problem is it is all too slow

    If they insist on check documents, they need to get the transaction time down to that of an oyster card or a company security badge.

    Start by caching locally passport info, Most people coming from France will have previously left UK.

    Most people arriving by air, are declared to Uk controls when they did checkin which well before the plan takes off, meaning you can prefetch the photo before they land if needs be. Provided you can see the photo on file and person match and the the person is going the opposite way to last time, you do not need to access a central server in real time which is the bottleneck. Plus you need camera looking in all six window for car trafic. It must be really annoying to spend the asking people to move around so the office can see the back seat passengers.

    1. smudge Silver badge

      Re: Problem is it is all too slow

      you can prefetch the photo before they land if needs be. Provided you can see the photo on file and person match and the the person is going the opposite way to last time, you do not need to access a central server in real time which is the bottleneck

      I always thought that the photo that is displayed is fetched off the chip on the passport. I didn't think there was any "central server" which is accessed in real-time.

      Anyone know?

  12. h3

    Well they waste a stupid amount of resources in London doing the checks at both ends when you use the Eurostar. No way you could get onto that train without going through passport control.

    (I don't know about the most expensive first class probably they skip it and that is what the politicians use.)

    1. SynicNZ

      Yes you can

      All you need is a ticket to Lille and you do not go through British immigration at Brussels.

      The issue has been that people have then not been getting off at Lille but continuing to London.

      British Immigration tried to check all and deny boarding to those they suspected would not get off but were threatened with arrest by Belgium police - so checks at both ends

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So now we know

    Technocratic solutions and privatisation ate Bollocks. Jolly good.

    Will the government listen and stop the gravy train?


  14. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Not just the UK

    Friend came back to the US from a trip to Aus/NZ and said "it doesn't feel like I'm coming home, it feels like I'm just returning to custody"

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Not just the UK

      "riend came back to the US from a trip to Aus/NZ and said "it doesn't feel like I'm coming home, it feels like I'm just returning to custody""


      All that extra "security" is for their benefit.

      To make Americans feel more secure and protected.

      Same with all the telephone and email monitoring.

      Don't they?

      1. The BigYin

        Re: Not just the UK

        USA security checks are a joke. Try getting out of N.Ireland when the IRA was active, now there was security. Polite security. Efficient security. But security with big guns nevertheless.

        Not these jumped up TSA dimwits.

        1. despairing citizen
          Big Brother

          Re: Not just the UK

          TSA/DHS much more interested in "security threatre" than security, it helps justify the expanding budget which can then be passed on to your favorite corporate congress/sentate donor.

  15. Justicesays

    My E-gate experience in Heathrow is

    There are normally three E-gates

    At any one time two of them are working.

    There is one staff member who has to tell people how to use the gate moving up and down between the two.

    There is one staff member on a manual desk behind the E-gates for when they fail to pass someone (a good percentage of the time).

    The gate generally takes longer than a manual pass and stamp job.

    I'm not sure how this is supposed to improved speed or staffing efficiency.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: My E-gate experience in Heathrow is

      And the person in front of the gates telling you which one to use.

      ... oh the empty one which has just been vacated by the last user ?

      .... thank you very much I would never have figured that one at on my own...

      Except in Manchester where they stand there to stop you using the gates - just be a minute - just rebooting them - just give it 5 minutes

    2. The BigYin

      Re: My E-gate experience in Heathrow is

      My experience is that they are slower than a person. I'm almost 2m tall - takes the machine an age to work out where my face is. But I am using a biometric passport, surely my height is in there? Surely the machine could say "Oh, I'll start at 1.9m rather than 2mm off the floor".

  16. despairing citizen
    Big Brother

    Another good temporary measure

    every time you hear some minister suggesting "temporary measures" for "national security" needs, look at your income tax build (temp measure for the Napoleonic wars), and the hassle of passport control (temp measure for the duration of WW1)

  17. JaitcH

    Border Bods - dumb but commensurate with pay level

    I use (legally) three passports, working on my fourth, and choose an appropriate one for my destination.

    For example, it is bad karma to use a passport with BKK (Thailand) in it as likely you will undergo secondary baggage check.

    Entering the UK, using a Canadian passport, Bright Spark Border Bod fails to notice that I don't have an exit stamp issued in the last 30 hours - longer than the longest scheduled flight. Stamps the passport "permitted to remain for 6 months", "not permitted to work". I show him I was born in the UK, therefore have the right to remain in the UK indefinitely AND work.

    His response was 'he was new on the job'.

    So I get my UK passport out from it's secure sub-underwear location (with a dreaded BKK stamp) and I asked "how about this one?" He smiles, stamps it, too, and says "Welcome home".

    Now I have two passports, with two identical dates of entry but I at least don't get clipped for a secondary baggage check.

    Wouldn't have / couldn't have happened in Kampuchea / Cambodia - their border electronics works well.

    Pretty sad commentary on UK government IT.

  18. Alister Silver badge

    The NAO said in a report that border staff managed to cut immigration queue times down during the London Olympics, but only at the expense of neglecting their other duties.

    Ok, so the Tech used is inefficient, as repeated above by most commentards, but no-one seems to have noticed that this report is based on a period when the number of incoming visitors to the UK had almost doubled compared to normal, and yet the staffing levels were not adequately increased to deal with this.

    It's hardly surprising, then, that the Border staff did the best they could with what was available to them, and prioritised the queues of incoming travelers over their other duties, and yet now they are being admonished for doing that. Had they ignored the queues and continued to carry out all their duties equally, I'm sure they would have been criticised for that as well

    I am not in any way connected with the immigration service or any other affiliated organisation, by the way, I just think it's typical UK government behaviour to blame anyone other than the policy makers (themselves) when a lack of forward planning is highlighted.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Thanks, Alister - that's a very fair point to make. This is about politicians scoring points off each other at the expense of the people with no effective say in the matter.

    2. Don Dumb

      Funding not IT.


      Yep. The problem might be identified (too long to wait) but entirely the wrong cause has been identified.

      The Agency is told by MPs that they can't make an "either or" decision but if they only have enough money for one or the other what are they supposed to do? Everyone before the Olympics was telling them to ensure the queues weren't long.

      I suspect the real cause is that Parliament hasn't given them enough money to do their job while also forcing manpower cuts on them. It's the same across government, less money, less people but somehow having to achieve more. Parliament causes this and then has the balls to complain about it. A poor IT system doesn't help but I'm willing to bet they weren't given enough money to put in a system that really does what it needs to and then have had to make do with what they can get for their money.

  19. Pen-y-gors Silver badge


    "But the number of entry refusals for people, forgery detections and seizures of cigarettes and counterfeit goods all came in below targets"

    How can they have targets for this sort of thing? A target for refusing people entry? "This month you must refuse entry to 100 people - it doesn't matter if there's any reason, just refuse 100 people at random" - and how can you hit a target for detecting forgeries if everyone happens to have genuine documents?

    This is bean-counter inspired madness!

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Targets?

      Yes - the stupid target system encourages the people at the sharp end to find problems even when they don't exist. From the point of view of the Border Force, it is a bad day when there have been no dodgy documents.

      Utter insanity ...

  20. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    B**ger that. What about the 60 000+ case backlog of asylum seekers.

    Ten years in limbo wondering if you're going to be thrown out or not.

  21. Maharg

    Is it due to not using the tech correctly, or is it more to do with this and the last government cutting border agency staff and pay? It’s the same BS with the NHS, Police and the Forces, for some reason MPs think cutting staff and budget will have no effect on the job being carried out, and then a year later when everything goes tits up because of government imposed targets not being met the MPs seem to be astonished!

    1. Don Dumb


      I make the same point above, I'm glad it isn't just me that noticed. MPs cause (or exacerbate) a problem then somehow complain that there is a problem. But it isn't just cuts, it also is an increase in what government and public departments are supposed to deliver - it might be possible to achieve a more output but certainly not when you are making cuts to people and funding.

      Take the example of teachers -

      While there is a perception (enforced by the Education Minister) that teachers have it easy with their long holidays, anyone who knows a halfway decent primary school teacher knows someone who works long hours and through a lot of their holiday.

      In recent years the amount they are expected to do has increased massively while the resources and support they get has gone down. I've seen a capable teacher work almost every day for the last year and breakdown under the pressure of modern teaching.

      And so it's pretty galling seeing how much teachers have to do, without the authority they once had, to be berated by the Education Minister (their ultimate boss) for not working hard enough, while he benefits from an education that cost far more than he is now willing to provide. A personal take on the gripe but this story on the Border Agency is no different

      1. Maharg

        @Dom Dumb

        I thought I had read (most of) the comments, so my only thought can be that I started typing before you posted and finished after!

        Having now read you post I agree with what you are saying, if they really wanted to do something about it they would stop with the cuts, front line (and you can’t get more frontline then the border agency) services should be protected, if something like that is wasteful re-organise it to improve efficiency, fine with that idea, and spend the money saved on improving it, but don’t strip services to save costs, and expect them to still perform.

        The DWP is worse, you have to wonder if they had spent the money wasted on trying to force people into work that can’t on either creating more jobs or paying benefits how better off people would be, for example a friend just had her 4th ATOS review what seems like as many months, apparently they don’t understand recovering from chemotherapy lasts longer than a few weeks, I mean the only other explanation is that they get paid for every assessment they do, but, no, they wouldn’t do that would they?

        She has gotten a group set up with other people who have had the same issues with ATOS, and you hear all sorts of stories, apparently one person had his benefits stopped for a month after he missed an appointment, by 10 minutes, turns out the assessment was in a place with no wheel chair access and he was sitting outside trying to phone them until someone walking past helped him up the stairs, (it’s not a public building so disabled access was not required apparently) he said it’s not the loss of money, but his dignity that hurt.

        But don’t worry, I’m sure the money they saved from not paying him a couple of hundred pounds that month made a big difference, soon he can get a train to Manchester a bit quicker…

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