Open letter


Lin Homer

Chief Executive

UK Border Agency

2 Marsham St

London SW1 4DF


30 October 2009


Dear Ms Homer

The FBI imply that UKBA are wasting money on face recognition technology

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) have installed smart gates at 10 UK airports [1]. These devices use face recognition technology to compare a travellerís face with the picture stored on his or her ePassport. The technology is supposed to make it quick for travellers to cross the border while not reducing security.

Speaking on 21 October 2009 at the Biometrics 2009 conference [2] held in London, Mr James A Loudermilk II outlined the plans for the FBIís use of biometrics. These are extensive enough to have occupied all the time allowed for his presentation. Nevertheless, he took the opportunity to say what is not in the FBIís plans Ė face recognition technology.

Face recognition would be the killer application of biometrics, Mr Loudermilk told the hundreds of conference delegates. The FBI would love to be able to use face recognition in their fight against crime. But they canít. The algorithms just donít exist to deliver the highly reliable verification required. They have been evaluating face recognition technology since 1963. They didnít invest then. And theyíre still not investing now.

Many critics of UKBAís dependence on face recognition technology can be ignored. When it comes from the FBI, that is a different order of (implicit) criticism. It canít be ignored. It demands a response, including a public examination of the statistics on the basis of which UKBA made its smart gates decision.

Given that, according to the FBI, the algorithms just donít exist to deliver the highly reliable verification required, two questions for you:

         Are UKBA wasting their time and wasting taxpayersí money on face recognition technology?

         Will border security suffer as a result of UKBA relying on face recognition technology?

Yours sincerely

David Moss


cc††††††† Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman, Home Affairs Committee

††††††††††† Phil Willis MP, Chairman, Science and Technology Committee

††††††††††† Sir David Normington KCB, Permanent Secretary, Home Office

††††††††††† Sir Michael Scholar KCB, Chair, UK Statistics Authority

††††††††††† Brodie Clark, Head of the Border Force, UK Border Agency

††††††††††† John Vine CBE QPM, Chief Inspector, UK Border Agency

††††††††††† James Hall, Chief Executive, Identity & Passport Service



[1] There has been little publicity about this move. It was confirmed at Biometrics 2009 by Alex Lahood, Identity Management Director, UKBA.

[2] Biometrics 2009 conference, 20-22 October 2009, Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, London, UK,