Nov 13, 2009

Immigration's all in the eye of the beholder

With my impending trip to the UK on Sunday there's one thing that I'd like to commend the British Immigration Authorities on..... and although I like to think of it as my little secret (as no one else ever seems to be using it) I shall pass on my wisdom.

About three years ago I was coming through Manchester airport in England and noticed a small booth advertising the Iris recognition immigration system (IRIS). Hmm interesting ...a faster way of getting through immigration at the major UK airports...for anyone who's been recently (particularly through Gatwick or Heathrow in the early morning when all the US and Carribean flights get in) the queues to get your passport checked as an UK national can be ridiculously long...literally 30-40 mins).

 I had time to spare and thought that I'd give it a go...

I had my passport scanned, my eyes scanned, my hoohah scanned (only joking)...a picture taken and I was good to go...seriously, it was that simple!

I had a little piece of paper confirming I was registered in case the machine was not working (copies available for $50 each, LOL) and I was off. I didn't think much of it until I came back into Manchester and there was a huge queue to prove I was legal....hmm...ok, lets see.. I scanned around for the machine

and low and behold, 1. there was no one in it and 2. it was switched on and actually working ( a miracle for anything remotely technical in the UK).
I positioned myself (it sort of looks like you are about to take a pee!) and lined my eyes up. I had this horrible feeling that I was going to get stuck in that machine, never to escape, but no, 3 seconds later I was out and my way to get my easy! I looked back at all the jealous onlookers who were obviously wondering exactly who I was that I could get through without the Spanish inquisition...well now they know...I am nobody who was just nosey with time to spare!!

I've done a little investigation. It seems that almost 100,000 Britons, who are signed up to IRIS, are already bypassing immigration queues at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham airports. Damn, I thought I was the only one...however 100,000 is just a drop in the queuing ocean with 120 million passing through those four airports, no wonder I never see anyone using the machines.

Registering for IRIS is free and takes between five and ten minutes at the above airports. It works by taking a photograph of the iris pattern, converting it into a digital code and storing it in a secure database. It makes use of the fact that the pattern of the iris in each person's eye (the coloured part of the eye) is unique. This makes it possible for a person to be identified simply by looking into a special camera. Quite clever sometimes those UK bods!

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