Immigration minister Liam Byrne last week unveiled a £50,000 image-based database system that associates fingerprints, a visa and a unique passport number with an individual. The system is the latest plank in the government's £400m e-Borders border control technology platform.
The pilot system to confirm the identity of visitors to the UK will run at Gatwick North Terminal from September 2007 to April 2008, using data from visa applicants from Sierra Leone. If successful, the government may extend it to cover up to five million visitors a year from non-European countries, excluding the US.
The pilot is part of a wider biometric-based border control system for the EU called BioDev 2. The BioDev 2 consortium members are Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and the UK. A Home Office spokesman said the project is 80% funded by the EU. Britain has contributed about £28,000 to the European Commission for BioDev 2.
Motorola, Zetes and Sagem, which earlier supplied the iris recognition system for the Home Office's "trusted traveller" scheme, are the three main suppliers to the BioDev project. Motorola supplied the Gatwick installation, and will install similar systems in other EU countries later.
Mike Lyne, assistant director at the Border & Immigration Agency, said the department is pleased with the system's performance so far. Some 5,000 names and related images are in the pilot database.
Most come from the collection UKVisas has been building since September 2006, when giving biometric details became compulsory for visa applications from some countries.
Fred Preston, Motorola's project leader, said the system finds a matching record in milliseconds.