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Travellers will not need to show passports to enter UK in new trial

Smart gates require passengers to be registered on a central database

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 04 January 2024 06:12 GMT
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Simon Calder explains smart passports as UK to begin new trial

“Smart” passport gates that allow travellers to cross the UK border without showing a passport could be trialled as early as this year.

According to The Times, Phil Douglas, director-general of the UK Border Force, is aiming for “much more frictionless facial recognition than we currently do”.

The aim is to upgrade the current eGates system so that arriving passengers can keep their passports in their pockets and be admitted to the UK simply by looking into a camera.

The existing eGates network relies on facial recognition. Each traveller’s face is checked against the data encrypted on the passport. A new system would rely on centralised data.

At present, eGates are open to travellers aged 10 or above who are British as well as citizens of the EU (and wider Schengen area), the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea. Smart gates will require the traveller to be registered on a database.

The gradual introduction of the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme means the information should be available for eligible travellers.

Mr Douglas told The Times: “We will know a lot more information about people upfront.”

Other countries are already using advanced facial recognition – with the world’s busiest international airport, Dubai, deploying the technology for some travellers.

Dubai Airports claims: “Smart Gates allow you to get through immigration procedures in as little as five seconds.”

Families with children under 15, as well as a traveller under 1.2m tall, are unable to use the smart gates in Dubai.

Similar technology is employed at some Australian airports.

In the UK, an initial trial is likely to take place at a single airport for a limited number of travellers. A procurement exercise will follow, with the cost of upgrading the hundreds of existing eGates likely to run into tens of millions.

However, passengers who were caught up in the collapse of the entire UK eGates system in May 2023 may be wary of proposed enhancements. Tens of thousands of passengers queued for many hours after a systems upgrade failed over the late May bank holiday.

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