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Brussels Airport to scrap facial recognition enabled e-gates as the system was ‘constantly defective’: Report

Less than 5 years after installing them, the Brussels Airport will scrap its electronic passport gates because they keep malfunctioning, Belgian outlet De Standaard reported. The automated gates use face recognition technology to compare each passenger with their passport photo, and open if there is a match. The e-gates, which were first installed in July 2015, reportedly cost €2.4 million. However, the gates were reportedly found to be “constantly defective”, and in one case, allowed a female passenger to go through even though she had scanned her husband’s passport. Police unions in the country have reportedly called the gates “a waste of taxpayers’ money”.

These gates will be replaced with a “more efficient system”, according to the report. However, it is unclear what the new solution would be, and how long it will take to implement. This development comes after the European Union reportedly plans to backtrack on its initial plan of placing a five year moratorium on government use of facial recognition technology. Facial recognition systems build in CCTV cameras, which are separate from the e-gates, were installed at the Brussels Airport in 2019, but the Police Information Inspectorate reportedly ordered the suspension of the project since it was in conflict with Belgian laws.

How does the current system work? The current system requires passengers to walk through the entrance gate, and insert their passport intoslots in the gate. (There are different slots for EU passports and Belgian Identity Cards as they use different technologies.)

  • Following that, a facial recognition camera installed at the gate clicks a picture of the passenger and verifies it against the picture on their passport. This video explains how the system works.

Screenshot from a video posted by the Brussels Airport on YouTube

Facial recognition systems have shown to be discriminatory, inaccurate: This development highlights that accuracy remains a big issue for most facial recognition systems, which is important to understand currently, as governments around the world plan to depend on the technology for policing purposes. 2 Senators in the US, drafted a Bill last week, which highlighted how facial recognition systems discriminate against women, people of colour, and immigrants among others. Also, a handful of cities in the USA have banned the use of such systems, including San FranciscoOaklandCambridgeBerkley, and Somerville.

Meanwhile in India, facial recognition systems have been active at several major Indian airports, including the Delhi airport, where more than 2,600 people have opted to go through the system. These systems at airports have been installed under the DigiYatra initiative, at access areas of the airport, including airport entry, security check entry and boarding gate entry.

  • The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) is inviting bids to create a national level Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS), which is expected to be the foundation for “a national level searchable platform of facial images”. The department is planning to deploy such a system when India doesn’t have a data protection law.
  • Earlier this year, we reported that the Indian Railways is in the process of installing Video Surveillance Systems (VSS), equipped with a facial recognition system, in 983 railway stations across the country. In fact, South Western Railway is planning to implement this system at its railway stations from February 2020.
  • Telangana’s election commission piloted a facial recognition app in its civic elections on January 22, and claimed that it could address the issue of voter impersonation. The All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), had urged the state’s election commissioner to withdraw the use of such systems, to no avail.
  • Certain police forces in India are already using facial recognition systems to scan people at large gatherings, with the most recent instance of its deployment being at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Delhi, in December 2019.
  • Police in Telangana have been asking for “suspects’” fingerprints and facial data to match against a database of criminals, although, as we had earlier reported, these cases often don’t involve an executive order, or explicit consent from the person whose biometric data is being demanded.

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