Biometric face recognition to be tested at Zurich airport

Biometric face tests map facial features like the nose and eyes Keystone Archive

Zurich airport is getting ready to test biometric face recognition hardware, something which officials hope will help them clamp down on illegal immigration.

This content was published on June 30, 2002 - 17:40

Werner Graf, a spokesman for Zurich's police force, confirmed the biometric tests would be happening soon, but remained tight-lipped on any further details including the test's start date. But the German company, C-VIS Computer Vision und Automation delivered the relevant hardware to the airport last week.

Biometric face recognition measures the distances between people's eyes, mouth and other facial features. Because each person is different it gives a unique reading for each individual. This data then provides officials with a highly accurate and almost foolproof way of identifying people.

It is not yet clear who will be subjected to face recognition testing or how long the scanning and cross referencing process will take. Likewise, there are no details of whether there will be blanket face recognition coverage on all arrivals or just spot checks from specific flights.

The machine apparently stores people's data for a maximum of 30 days according to the head of Zurich airport's police force, Ulirich Neracher, who talked about the new technology in an interview with the "WochenZeitung" newspaper a few weeks ago.

Illegal immigrants

One of the practical uses of the new machine will be determining the identity of illegal immigrants and sending them home.

Speaking in the German "Der Spiegel" magazine, Thomas Zielke, head of C-Vis, said that when illegal immigrants arrive at foreign airports, they often claim to have lost their passports and they refuse to say which flight they arrived on.

This poses a problem because without proof of their flight, the airlines refuse to pay for the immigrants return tickets if they are sent back home.

The new machine can determine which flights the illegal immigrants arrived on says Zielke.

The system has already been secretly tested in Britain and the Netherlands.

Although the test will provide immigration officials with more accurate data, the biometric face recognition machines have not been warmly welcomed from all sides.

Bruno Baeriswyl from Zurich's data protection agency says that the airport has no legal grounds to test the new system. In an interview with the newspaper, the "SonntagsZeitung", he complained that concerns about a potential violation of civil liberties had not been considered.

swissinfo with agencies

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