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Biometric ID Zurich airport to pilot face recognition system

Biometric face scanners are a common sight in other airports, including the US


Passengers going through passport control at Zurich airport this autumn will be asked to test a new biometric face-scanning system – on a voluntary basis.

From September 27, the airport will trial eight scanning machines which aim to improve security and cut down on queues at border control. The long-awaited system is making a delayed debut after undergoing “software optimisations”.

The Tages-Anzeiger newspaper reported on Friday that Zurich cantonal police were now ready to run the Automated Border Control (ABC) system during one of Zurich airport’s busiest periods, which last year saw a high of 107,000 passengers passing through in a single day.

Both the police and the airport confirmed that the system will be installed for a pilot phase, most probably lasting several months. The same system is already in use at other airports, including Amsterdam-Schiphol.

Passengers over the age of 18, and who are holders of biometric passports and either Swiss, European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) citizenship, will be free to use the scanners rather than present their passports to the usual border control officers.

Biometric face recognition measures the distances between people's eyes, mouth and other facial features, giving a unique reading for each individual. This data would then provide officials with a means of identifying people and thus detect terrorists or other criminals.

The ABC system can also check on identities through other biometric data, such as fingerprints, but Zurich police declined to say when such tests would be run. The system also comes with concerns over data privacy, with Switzerland’s data protection commissioner Adrian Lobsiger calling biometric data collection a “megatrend”.

Zurich cantonal police declined to comment immediately, but said more information would be released towards the end of this month.

Last year, a record 27.7 million passengers passed through Zurich airport.

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