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Eye-scan for Heathrow immigration checks

The biometric technology will photograph a passenger's iris patterns and store the data in a database, with their passport details.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 18:56 IST

Frequent travellers to Britain can now benefit from a faster, simpler way to pass through immigration control at Heathrow, thanks to new biometric technology that uses an eye-scan for identification.

Official sources said that the Iris Recognition Immigration System (IRIS) installed at Heathrow Terminal 1 Friday will enable registered passengers to enter Britain without queuing up to see an immigration officer at passport control.

Instead, individuals signed up to the scheme will be able to walk up to an automated barrier, simply look into a camera and if the system recognises them enter Britain, leaving immigration officers to concentrate on other priorities.

This biometric technology works by photographing a passenger's iris patterns and storing the data in a database, together with their passport details. Only those individuals who have had their details authenticated by an immigration officer are able to use the technology.

As no two-iris patterns are alike, the system will quickly and securely recognise each registered individual when he looks into the camera.

A one-off enrolment for IRIS takes about five minutes and is free. Registration is conducted by immigration staff in the departures area of the airport.

Terminal 1 is the third terminal at Heathrow to benefit from the new technology that was introduced in Terminals 2 and 4 in June 2005.

Speaking at the launch, Immigration Minister Tony McNulty said, "For the first time frequent travellers and non-EU citizens will be able to enter the country via Terminal 1 quickly and securely by using IRIS technology.

"With over 97 million people entering the UK in 2005, it is important that the UK remains at the forefront of the latest technology in immigration controls and the government's commitment to project IRIS demonstrates that.

"Secure and effective border controls are vital to safeguard our citizens against terrorism, serious and organised crime and illegal immigration, while at the same time facilitating entry for legitimate travellers."

Welcoming the Home Office initiative, British Airways Manager for Government Affairs Jim Forster said, "Iris recognition will complement other BA initiatives such as check-in online and print your own boarding card from home which substantially reduces the amount of time our customers need to spend in queues at the airport."

IRIS is part of the e-Borders programme - a partnership between the Home Office, border control, law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It is will be installed at Gatwick North and South, Heathrow Terminal 3, Stansted, Birmingham and Manchester Terminals 1 and 2 during 2006.