Eurostar passengers leaving London will be able to avoid manual checks by UK border officials from today by scanning their faces and passports at home using the Facial Verification app.
Technology-enabled travelers must use the iProov app before arriving at St Pancras railway station to scan their identity documents and verify their faces and tickets.
At the station they can bypass UK border control into a dedicated ‘SmartCheck’ lane and walk in front of a screen before having their face recognized by a system.
If they are approved, they can walk through doors that open automatically and go straight through the nearest baggage security X-ray scanner and French border control.
Eurostar says the rollout of the technology is aimed at reducing congestion, although it is currently limited to only its Business Premier and Carte Blanche passengers.
Step 1: Passengers will need a Eurostar ticket from London St Pancras Station in Business Premier or a Carte Blanche membership to use the facial verification software.
Step 2: Travelers need to download the SmartCheck enroller app iProov.me from their Apple or Google App Store, then follow the steps to verify their identity and link their rail tickets
Step 3: Upon arrival at St Pancras, passengers should proceed to the dedicated SmartCheck lane
The move means Eurostar – which operates between London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam – has become the first rail operator to use biometric facial verification.
How does the Eurostar facial verification technology work?
The SmartCheck system is only available to Business Premier passengers or carte blanche holders using Eurostar rail services on the Continent from London St Pancras.
Travelers need to download the SmartCheck enrollment app iProov.me from their Apple or Google App Store.
They should then follow the steps to verify their identity with their passport and link their Eurostar ticket.
Upon arrival at St Pancras, passengers should proceed to the Business Premier entrance and locate the dedicated SmartCheck lane.
They should remove anything covering their face, such as glasses, and walk in front of the screen at a normal pace.
The system will then detect the passenger’s face and status if they can go. If so, they can continue walking towards the automatic door.
But if their face is not verified or their ticket is not read, they will have to get an employee to manually check their ticket – and may also have to manually check their UK passport.
Once checked into the UK – whether it’s automated – they can go straight to the nearest baggage security x-ray scanner and French border control, where they must show their passport to an actual worker.
But the system has attracted concerns from privacy campaigners, including Sophia Akram, pre-crime program manager at the Open Rights Group.
He told MailOnline today: ‘Whenever new biometric systems are introduced there is a concern that people’s data will be protected, whether on a mobile device or in an organisation’s system.
‘We would expect Eurostar to ensure that it maintains the highest level of data protection and privacy standards as it pilots this new technology.
‘Face recognition is still susceptible to error, especially when the person being scanned is dark-skinned, young and female. The concern is that you retain people with these characteristics.’
The system, which iProve and Eurostar began discussing in 2016, can simultaneously scan up to four people walking side by side.
If the launch is successful, there are plans to roll it out to all standard class ticket holders. However, it cannot be used by children under the age of 16 due to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) restrictions.
Those using the new system will still have their bags scanned by security staff and their passports checked by French border officials.
MailOnline understands that the SmartCheck system is completely contactless, so there is no one to manually check documentation even though there are staff around the concourse.
But if the system doesn’t verify their faces, there will be staff at the gate to ensure passengers can be helped.
For example, this will not work if a passenger has not properly used the iProov app to upload their biometric credentials remotely.
Similarly, if a standard class passenger tries to use SmartCheck, they will not be allowed through, and so staff will be on hand to redirect them to the correct place within the station.
Earlier this year it emerged that Eurostar was forced to leave hundreds of seats empty on trains from London to avoid long queues at stations.
The situation has improved but dozens of seats are not being offered for sale on some services. The longest Eurostar train carries 900 passengers.
Step 4: Passengers must remove anything covering their face and walk in front of the screen
Step 5: The system will then detect the passenger’s face when they stand in front of the screen
Step 6: The check will then determine whether the passenger can pass through the gate
Increased post-Brexit checks carried out by French border officials have significantly increased the time it takes to process passengers at stations.
Eurostar chief executive Gwendoline Cazenave said: ‘Providing our customers with a seamless station experience is a priority for Eurostar. We are looking for solutions to increase capacity at stations and ease the flow of passengers.
SmartCheck at St Pancras International Station is a solution for a fast and seamless check-in experience. With the launch of SmartCheck, we became the first rail travel operator to adopt biometric face verification.
‘This innovation will enhance our customer exit journey, which is crucial to delivering Eurostar’s unique travel experience.’
Andrew Budd, chief executive of London-based iProov, said the system had previously been tested with Eurostar between December 2021 and April 2022 before today’s rollout.
Eurostar runs trains from London St Pancras (above) to France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
He added: ‘The rollout of SmartCheck at Eurostar’s Business Premier check-in at London St Pancras is significant as it clearly demonstrates how facial biometric technology can be used to manage border control in a smarter and more efficient way, benefiting both the company and passengers. . on the scale
‘By creating a biometric corridor, we are moving security checks away from stations, saving valuable time and space at the border, making the boarding process faster, more convenient, less crowded and stressful, and even safer.’
iProov also emphasizes that all personal data is processed in compliance with the GDPR with full passenger consent.
In addition, the company said the trial of its software was funded by a Department for Transport initiative supporting research and development for the UK rail industry.
London Heathrow Airport began trialling facial biometric scanners in 2019 but scrapped the project when passenger numbers fell due to the pandemic.
Last month, Eurostar ended its service to Disneyland Paris, while its Amsterdam link has been suspended for almost a year.
London St Pancras to Marne-la-Vallée, a station next to the theme park, departs at 10.34am on June 5 as the operator focuses on key routes to Paris and Brussels.
Eurostar’s direct trains to Disneyland Paris have been popular with British families since they began running in 1996. Passengers traveling on this route are now forced to change trains, adding time and complexity to their journey
In August last year, when Eurostar announced its decision to stop direct services to Disneyland, the company said: ‘While we continue to recover financially from the pandemic and monitor developments on the proposed EU Entry Exit (EES) system, we need to focus on On our core routes we can ensure that we deliver the high level of service and experience that our customers rightly expect.
Eurostar’s latest route map showing services between London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam
Passengers queue for Eurostar trains at London St Pancras station last December
‘Passengers can still enjoy high-speed rail travel between London and Disneyland Paris via Paris or Lille.’
The EES expects travelers from non-EU countries such as the UK to have their fingerprints scanned and a photograph registered on a database when they first enter a Member State.
There are fears that the scheme, which was supposed to be launched this year but has been repeatedly delayed, will create long queues for commuters.
Once it is in place, UK tourists traveling to most EU countries will also have to pay a €7 (£6) fee under the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS). It must be paid for entry permit for the following three years.
Additional passport checks due to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU are already limiting the number of passengers that can be processed at London St Pancras.
Meanwhile, Dutch media reported that Infrastructure Secretary Vivienne Heijnen has warned that no Eurostar trains will be able to run to or from the capital’s main station Amsterdam Centraal from June 2024 until the end of May 2025, while it is renovated.
Eurostar services from Amsterdam will be suspended as the project to expand the size of the international terminal at Central Station involves the demolition of existing facilities used to conduct passport and security checks.
The operator runs four trains in each direction between London and Amsterdam, with plans to add a fifth service. Train capacity from Amsterdam is limited due to restrictions on how many passengers can be processed.
Meanwhile Eurostar services to Ibsfleet or Ashford International stations in Kent, which were suspended at the start of the pandemic, will be suspended indefinitely.
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