Head of the Border Force
Your ref. TO 12820
4 August 2009
Dear Mr Clark
Thank you for your letter dated 26 June 2009 .
The use of biometrics based on facial geometry has a long history of uninterrupted failure .
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) are nevertheless testing face recognition again , this time with "smart gates" which are meant to check people's faces against their passports. You say:
Naturally, improvements for travellers and the intelligent deployment of staff are to be applauded. The question is whether face recognition technology can deliver those benefits.
You cite the Face Recognition Vendor Test 2006 (FRVT2006)  as one reason to believe that this technology now works:
This is the only trial of facial recognition technology that you cite. There is no earlier trial that you appeal to, and no later one. Are UKBA right to place so much faith in this one trial?
The results of the trial suggest that between 8% and 19% of
travellers cannot have their identity verified by facial recognition
technology . Are UKBA
going to stop between 8% and 19% of passengers from boarding
their flights? Surely not. The
you do not cite any evidence from UKBA's own trials of facial
recognition technology at
The inevitable suspicion is that facial recognition technology continues to be as unreliable as it always has been and that it will not improve the lot of travellers and that it will not allow UKBA to concentrate its staff on high risk areas.
You say in your June 2009 letter:
So the testing of facial recognition technology continues.
But in February 2009, UKBA announced a 10-point delivery plan , which consists of several "pledges". One of those pledges is, by August 2009, to have ...
No hint there that the technology is just being tested, it might work, it might not. In that respect, the 10-point delivery plan press release is misleading.
The evidence suggests that relying on facial recognition technology is a bad case of wishful thinking . To continue to indulge that fantasy  is to waste time and money . It risks the credibility  and dignity  of UKBA . Expectations are raised and can only be disappointed .
In summary, I put it to you that UKBA's faith in FRVT2006 is misplaced, I ask you to publish the results of UKBA's trials so far and I ask you to explain how an executive agency of the Home Office can fall into the trap of misleading the public.
cc Sir David Normington KCB, Permanent Secretary, Home Office
James Hall, Chief Executive, Identity & Passport Service
Marek Rejman-Greene, Home Office Scientific Development Branch