Published on
The Guardian/UK

Interpol Wants Facial Recognition Database to Catch Suspects

Owen Bowcott

Interpol is planning to expand its role into the mass screening of passengers moving around the world by creating a face recognition database to catch wanted suspects.(

Interpol is planning to expand its
role into the mass screening of passengers moving around the world by
creating a face recognition database to catch wanted suspects.

year more than 800 million international travellers fail to undergo
"the most basic scrutiny" to check whether their identity documents
have been stolen, the global policing cooperation body has warned.

figures want a system that lets immigration officials capture digital
images of passengers and immediately cross-check them against a
database of pictures of terror suspects, international criminals and

The UK's first automated face recognition gates -
matching passengers to their digital image in the latest generation of
passports - began operating at Manchester airport in August.

Branchflower, head of Interpol's fingerprint unit, will this week
unveil proposals in London for the creation of biometric identification
systems that could be linked to such immigration checks.

The civil liberties group No2ID, which campaigns against identity cards, expressed alarm at the plans.

is a move away from seeking specific persons to GCHQ-style bulk
interception of information," warned spokesman Michael Parker.

already a fair amount of information collected in terms of passenger
records. This is the next step. Law enforcement agencies want the most
efficient systems but there has to be a balance between security and
privacy." The growth of international criminal gangs and the spread of
terrorist threats has increased demand for Interpol's services.

Last year it carried out 10,000 fingerprint searches; this year the figure will reach 20,000.

automated fingerprint identification system with far greater capacity,
known as Metamorpho, will be installed next year. Earlier this month
Interpol launched its "global security initiative" aimed at raising
$1bn (£577m) to strengthen its law enforcement programmes. It claims to
hold the "names and identifiers" of 9,000 terrorist suspects.

will speak at the opening of the Biometrics 2008 conference in
Westminster about the possibility of extending its biometric database.

the conference he said that Interpol wanted to create a face
recognition database, to match its fingerprint and DNA records, that
could be searched and matched automatically.

recognition is a step we could go to quite quickly," said Branchflower,
"and it's increasingly of use to [all] countries. There's so much data
we have but they are in records we can't search."

If Interpol had
been operating a face recognition database linked to national border
controls last autumn, he said, it might have picked up a Canadian
teacher wanted for child abuse as he entered Thailand. The paedophile
was the subject of a high-profile manhunt.

"We could have
picked him up the moment he entered Bangkok rather than having to wait
another two weeks," said Branchflower."We need to get our data to the
border entry points. There will be such a large role in the future for
fingerprints and facial recognition."

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