Cuts to Airport Security
Our World | On 29, Feb 2012
So, the Department of Homeland Security (or whatever the less excitingly named UK equivalent is) has quietly begun to shut down the £9 million IRIS programme at airports across the UK.
When it was launched back in 2004, IRIS was hailed as the future of immigration and passport checks particularly for EU travellers. “Hooray” we all shouted with glee – excited by the prospect that finally, the perverse situation where the queues to get back into our own country were longer than those for travellers from outside the EU would finally be reversed.
Plus, we would all feel inherently superior to our fellow passengers as we whizzed seamlessly through retina scanners instead of having to interact with an actual Border Officer. Not to mention the obvious James Bond connotations of simply looking into a machine in order to be identified.
So, having a few hours to kill in T5 a few years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to register for this fabulously exciting new technology. It was also with great swagger and confidence that I bypassed the horrendous queues on my way back and headed straight to the IRIS machines instead.
Now, anyone who has had the pleasure of this experience will appreciate how it will reduce you to talking back to an inanimate object – “I AM looking in the mirror”, “ I DID just step back”, the strange half crouch adopted as you struggle to find the correct height and also the embarrassed shrugs to your fellow passengers who are giggling as they progress (with their dignity intact) to the front of the normal queue. It will come of no surprise, therefore, that the promised 12 seconds per passenger that these devices were hailed to deliver failed to materialise and that registration onto the scheme has been stopped.
Also, the machines themselves are being removed completely from Manchester and Birmingham airports to be replaced by more investment in the ‘chip’ biometric scanners for newer passports instead. It is expected that they will also disappear from Gatwick and Heathrow after the Olympics.
Personally, I think it is a shame. Although they were beset by technical and software problems, when they were working, the level of security that IRIS offered was second to none. Plus I’m pretty sure we’re a little way off from the black market being able to fake someone’s retinas.
With such a huge level of initial investment, surely it is worth improving what we already have instead of just throwing it out and starting again? The issue of illegal immigration is always a key priority and this seemed like a step in the right direction but, alas no more.
Sarah Threlfall, Events Team