- Iris scanners cost £9million when they were launched in 2004
- Machines were already out of date when they were launched
- Manchester and Birmingham airports quietly scrapping the machines
- Heathrow and Gatwick to halt scheme for new passengers
By JAMES TOZER
Last updated at 12:57 AM on 17th February 2012
A scanner darkly: The machines are being turned off at Manchester and Birmingham
Costly eye scanners that were meant to slash queues at airport passport control are being quietly scrapped, it emerged yesterday.
Labour ministers brought in iris recognition checks at an estimated cost of £9million, claiming they were capable of processing travellers in as little as 12 seconds.
But after 385,000 passengers submitted their details, the scanners have been ditched at Birmingham and Manchester airports, and they are expected to vanish from Heathrow and Gatwick after the Olympics.
Critics said it was another expensive Government software failure, saying the system had ended up taking longer than traditional manual checks.
Some irate travellers even ended up getting trapped inside the scanning booths when they malfunctioned.
When the then immigration minister, Des Browne, unveiled the Iris Recognition Immigration System, known as Iris, in 2004, he claimed it would provide a ‘watertight’ check of identities as well as cutting queues. It was targeted at foreign passport holders resident in the UK or who regularly travel here and wanted to avoid lengthy queues. They had to undergo a free 15-minute registration to record the unique pattern of their iris every two years.
The Iris system is understood to have cost a total of £4million to run on top of its development price of £4.9million. The contract was given to a French firm, Sagem.
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Plans to use the technology for UK passports and evden Labour’s ill-fated ID cards scheme were dropped after it emerged that up to one in ten travellers were wrongly rejected by the scanners.
Scanner inspection: Labour Home Secretary Charles Clarke tries out one of the new scanners in 2005 as they were hailed by Ministers as a key weapon in the fight against terrorism and fraud
AN EXPENSIVE FAILURE: IRIS RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY WAS DEAD ON ARRIVAL
Trumpeted as a key tool in the fight against identity fraud, Iris scanners were expected to slash clues when they were launched by the Labour Government in 2004.
But in reality the scanners were dead on arrival. The scheme cost £9million.
Immigration minister Des Browne boasted at launch that the scanners would cut waiting times to just 12 seconds per passenger.
The devices, which are free to use, were aimed at regular travellers.
But perversely, passengers who want to dodge queues by using the scanners have to queue up for a 15-minute registration – then repeat the process every two years.
With the registration scheme now closed, biometric scanners will be phased out within two years unless it it reopened.
They then had to wait for manual checks to be performed.
Subsequently, facial recognition technology has been developed with the new generation of biometric passports which can be used at automated ‘e-gates’.
These chip-enabled passports are not held by travellers from outside the European Economic Area, however, and they have remained dependent on iris recognition.
Lucy Moreton, deputy general secretary of the Immigration Service Union, said the Iris scheme had been beset with problems from the beginning. She added: ‘Iris scanners are prone to throwing up false alerts when genuine travellers try to use them. We welcome the decision to phase them out.’
James Baker, of privacy group No2ID, said: ‘This is recognition that iris scanning is an expensive failure. The money would be better spent employing more trained staff to use their initiative and check passports manually.’
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We are phasing out Iris and will be replacing it with other types of gates that non-EU passengers will be able to use.’