Travellers are all thumbs at the immigration gates

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 January, 2005, 12:00am

They find themselves out of touch with temperamental new fingerprint scanner

The rule of thumb is turning out to be harder to understand than many people expected at the new automated immigration clearing gates.

Although most travellers went through without a problem, common mistakes by some included putting their thumbs anywhere but the actual fingerprint reader or inserting their smart identity upside down. Some people have placed their entire palm on the screen.

The Immigration Department said yesterday that the dry winter weather had also made fingerprints harder to scan, so they have placed wet paper towels for the public to use. But a wet thumb is no good either, and travellers were reminded to wipe off the excessive water before placing their thumbs for scanning.

And if everything failed, the department has kept manned immigration clearing booths open to serve travellers, including those unlucky ones whose damaged fingerprints prevented them from using the automated channels.

The assistant immigration director for information systems, Raymond Wong Wai-man, said that in the first week after the first three automated gates were installed at the Lowu checkpoint in December about 5 per cent of travellers could not get past the gates. 'But in the past week just 1.5 per cent of travellers needed our assistance,' said Mr Wong.

The department is working to iron out the problems they have encountered so far and is planning to expand the system to other checkpoints, including the airport.

About 270 gates will be installed at various checkpoints in phases and the whole project is set for completion in the middle of next year.

But more immediate plans are to install the automated machines at the land border checkpoints such as Lok Ma Chau so that trucks drivers can just stick their thumbs out of their windows and drive through.

Mr Wong added that they are working with the Chinese University to develop a face recognition system to run parallel with the fingerprint reading machine to provide a better service.

They are in the process of taking photos of the known truck drivers so their data could be used by the system. But such use of personal information would need the drivers' consent.

And to cope with the introduction of the automated system, special control rooms are being set up at the checkpoints to monitor each passing.

A centre console would also be installed at the Immigration Department headquarters to keep an overview.