image

Hong Kong aviation

Visitors to Hong Kong can make quick getaway as airport opens facial recognition channels

Passengers will need to have their picture taken every time they arrive in city

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 7:47pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 11:27pm

Visitors to Hong Kong will soon be able to make a quicker getaway from the city as the airport launches new electronic channels equipped with facial recognition technology on Tuesday.

To use the service, passengers will need to have their picture taken every time they arrive to verify their identity.

The Immigration Department said on Monday that anyone aged 11 or above, who holds a valid electronic travel document that complies with the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s requirements, will be able to use the new system without registering in advance.

The authority expected the measure to cut the average processing time from 50 seconds per person to 20 seconds. It was estimated that more than 5 million visitors annually would be eligible to use the system.

Raymond Lok Wai-man, assistant director responsible for information systems at the department, said the technology, which had already been adopted in many countries, would successfully recognise 99 per cent of a traveller’s face.

“The computer first compares the eyes of departing visitors [with the picture in the chip], followed by other facial features,” Lok said. “If the visitor wears a hat or glasses, the system might fail to compare all facial features. The visitor will be stuck at the gate pending further verification by our staff.”

The department has installed cameras at arrival counters to take real-time photos of visitors, which will be compared with the photos in their travel documents.

If visitors are eligible to use the e-channel for departure, they will be issued with a landing slip that bears the Smart Departure logo.

“We will store the pictures for one year. All pictures we take are only used for immigration purposes,” Lok said, adding the department had sought advice from the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data and that the procedures complied with relevant regulations.

According to Lok, there are more than one hundred countries issuing electronic passports to their nationals. More than 70 countries had authorised the Immigration Department to access the chips of their travel documents. The arrangements are not available to local residents who use their Hong Kong ID card in a different set of departure channels.

Lok said 10 e-channels would be available at Hong Kong International Airport at first, with another 300 more expected in all control points by the end of the year.

The immigration chief, Erick Tsang Kwok-wai, said earlier this year that the streamlined travel service would only be available for people leaving Hong Kong, as the procedures then were generally easier than for arrivals.

“Officers are required to check visas and purpose of visit upon arrival,” Tsang said.