The following reply was received the day before yesterday, 1 July 2009. Mr Brodie Clark is on the Board of UKBA with responsibility for the Border Force. His response on behalf of Sir David Normington is much appreciated:
Home Office UK BorderAgency
Office of the Head of the Border Force
2 Marsham Street
SW1P 4DF www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk
Ref: TO 128201
26 June 2009
Dear Mr. Moss,
Thank you for your letter of 16 April concerning the effectiveness of facial recogni-tion technology which the UK Border Agency [UKBA] is currently using at Stansted and Manchester Airports. Your letter has been passed to me to respond.
UKBA commenced testing our Automated Clearance System (ACS) at Manchester and Stansted in August and December last year, to assess the accuracy and reliability of the technology. The Home Secretary’s pledge to introduce gates at a total of 10 UK airport terminals by August, includes the two current sites at Manchester and Stansted. It will provide a further opportunity to test the technology on larger numbers of pas-sengers, across a broader range of locations. It also means that the gates will be avail-able to British and EEA citizens throughout the busy summer holiday period.
All passengers using ACS undergo the same checks against government databases, as they would if proceeding via the conventional manual control. The system is moni-tored by UKBA officers, who will examine any passengers rejected by the gate, as well as carrying out random manual checks.
You are already aware, through your previous correspondence with the Home Office Scientific Development Branch, of the results of the Face Recognition Vendor Test 2006. The test’s findings demonstrated considerable improvement in this field, and confirmed that the technology could be applied successfully in a one-to-one (verifica-tion) mode. Contrary to unsubstantiated reports in the Telegraph, the technology has also been robustly tested against abuse by spoofing, tailgating and impostors.
ACS is just one strand of UKBA’s work to balance maintaining border security with the facilitation of legitimate trade and travel. We recognise that the vast majority of the travelling public are legitimate, law-abiding passengers and believe that the gates will deliver an improved service to our customers whilst allowing us to deploy our staff intelligently to areas of greater risk.
Regarding your comment about Interpol, the Prime Minister announced on 25 July 2007 our intention to connect the UK’s watchlist to Interpol’s database of lost and stolen travel docu-ments at the border. This capability was successfully delivered at border crossing points [and for visa and in-country applications] in December 2008. Front-line officers are now able to instantly check whether a travel document has been reported lost or stolen and act accord-ingly.
You also raised concerns about UKBA policies linked to foreign students and the issue of bogus colleges. International students directly contribute £2.5 billion to the UK economy in tuition fees alone and one estimate puts the value of international students at nearly £8.5 bil-lion. The changes to the Points Based System mean that those institutions not registering or making the grade to achieve a sponsorship licence are being driven out of business. UKBA works closely with Ofsted to ensure the continuing effectiveness of the accreditation system and that high standards are maintained.
Both institutions and the international students they bring will continue to be monitored to ensure that they comply with the rules. The tightened controls have resulted in a 2,400 cut in the number of institutions bringing international students to the UK.