Biometric airport security gets thumbs-up

Posted on June 25th, 2007

Success for four-month trial at Heathrow.

Air travellers have backed biometric security checks after a four-month trial of the passenger screening technology at London’s Heathrow airport.

Fingerprint and iris scans were used for screening more than 3,000 passengers who volunteered to take part in the trial on Cathay Pacific and Emirates flights to and from Dubai and Hong Kong.

The miSense trial was aimed at testing the feasibility of advanced passenger screening in the UK, which would allow the traveller’s details to be checked against various intelligence and immigration databases and ‘watch lists’ before being allowed to board a flight.

The basic miSense security screening required passengers to scan their passport and right index finger at a self-service check-in kiosk before getting a boarding card. The manual check before security is then replaced by an automatic barrier activated by the passenger’s fingerprint and a biometric reader verifies the passenger again at the boarding gate.

A more advanced miSense screening collected 10 fingerprint, two iris and a facial image scan during a manual enrolment. This data was then uploaded onto an RFID smartcard, used in conjunction with a fingerprint reader at an automatic immigration barrier on arrival at Dubai, Heathrow or Hong Kong airports.

Overall, passenger feedback on the trial has been positive with 81 per cent rating the miSense service ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ and 87 per cent saying the enrolment process was easy. The main benefit cited by those who took part in the trial was faster journey times.

The average time to fully enrol a traveller was seven minutes and the self-service border clearance gate recorded an average time of 17 seconds to let passengers through. More than 3,000 traveller records were transferred to the Border & Immigration Agency background checking system during the trial and 96 per cent were processed in fewer than 30 seconds.

The report into the miSense trial said: ‘The advancement of technology has meant that biometric information can now be captured quickly, unobtrusively and, as observed during the trial, with a high degree of traveller acceptance.’

The miSense technology was developed and delivered by a consortium of organisations including Accenture, BAA, the Border & Immigration Agency, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, IER, Raytheon, Sagem, and SITA. Each organisation self-funded their elements of the trial including time, materials and equipment.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne added in the report: ‘New technology, particularly biometrics, and new approaches to managing risk and intelligence will play a fundamental part in making it easier for good travellers to travel – but bad for those we are concerned about.’

By Andy McCue (