UK Plans Face-based Border Screening as Part of ‘Permission to Travel’ Scheme

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The United Kingdom is getting ready to implement a stringent biometric border control regime that will apply even to visitors from the European Union, further cementing its political break from the region after the Brexit decision. 

The system will be based on facial recognition, and is aimed at enabling contactless border screening. Individuals coming to visit the country be asked to upload a selfie image to the Home Office as part of a pre-screening process. When they arrive at a border checkpoint, they will undergo a face scan for identity verification, negating the need to interact with a border officer.

As reports, the border plans also entail a new requirement that visitors who don’t hold a UK or Irish passport much apply for a visa or “Electronic Travel Authorisation”, the latter entailing a cost of about €21. This part of the border effort is being characterized as a “Permission to Travel” scheme.

“As Home Secretary, I have been focused on taking back control of our immigration system through my New Plan for Immigration,” explained the Johnson government’s Priti Patel. “This includes ensuring we have a border that is fit for the 21st century, which allows travellers to get a visa and pass through the border easily while maintaining national security.”

News of the border control plan comes just a few weeks after reports that the UK had agreed to demands from the US Department of Homeland Security for escalated access to biometric information about British travelers heading to the US. The DHS has reportedly also been asking for such information from European Union members, framing it as an “Enhanced Border Security Partnership”.

For its part, the European Union is also pushing its members to implement biometric border screening systems as part of its EU Entry/Exit System, entailing the collection of fingerprint and face data.

The British government plans to trial its “Permission to Travel” scheme with visitors from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE starting in March of next year, before rolling it out to all foreign visitors by the end of the year. The contactless biometric border screening system is expected to be implemented in 2024.


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