Dover ID checks: EU fingerprint and facial recognition checks could be delayed over fears of Olympics chaos

Planned new identity checks at passport control could be delayed amid fears of chaos for travellers heading to Paris Olympics

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The EU could delay the introduction of fingerprinting and facial recognition checks at Dover amid fears of it causing problems for next year’s Olympic Games in France, it has been reported.

The additional identity checks on travellers were due to begin in November 2023 but the Guardian reports that they could now be delayed until the summer of 2024 as authorities try to work out how to implement them without causing chaos at border control. 

EU officials are due to discuss the proposed delay to the new entry and exit system (EES) in June. Those close to discussions between the UK and EU say the November date “is not going to happen”, with one source telling the Guardian: “The only question is whether the enrolment will be pushed back until spring 2024, or until after the Olympics in July and August.”

There are particular concerns about how the new rules will affect the UK’s busiest port and the Eurotunnel facility at Folkestone, where French passport officers carry out border checks on UK soil. Passengers at Dover faced queues of up to 14 hours over Easter due to more stringent passport checks and the post-Brexit need to stamp every passport, including those of people travelling by coach. At Easter, coaches were taking up to an hour per vehicle to process.

There are fears that the new EES rules would have a similar effect, with the Port of Dover’s chief executive, Doug Bannister, saying a repeat or worsening of such a situation would be “unacceptable”.

Anthony Marett, chair of the coach operators’ association UKCOA, called the situation at  Easter “a perfect storm”. He told the paper: “You had coach travel returning at a scale not seen since the pandemic. You had all of the coaches descending on one infrastructure all at the same time. The net result of it was just pandemonium. “If they introduce further checks that lead to delays, we think there will be quite a serious incident.”

Under the new EES rules, passengers travelling to Europe will have to have their fingerprints and facial image recorded the first time they arrive on the continent. This should, says the EU, then speed up processing on subsequent journeys. 

John Keefe, head of public affairs at Eurotunnel said it supported smart border systems that used technology to speed up the border crossing process but said there were concerns over the  “enrolment process” and how the technology, including facial recognition, will work. 

He that there were worries facial scanners would not work through tinted glass, meaning passengers will have to get out of the vehicle to be checked, and over how mixed carloads of passengers with or without EU passports would be handled. An additional problem is a lack of space at the ferry and Eurotunnel sites to create any first-time registration zones, which could reduce queuing. 

Previously, senior figures at the Port of Dover have warned that it could take up to 10 minutes to check a single car under the new rules, compared with the current 90-second average. 

Bannister said that small variable changes could make the difference between a controlled process and chaos. He said: “Our modelling is in a way all over the place, because with a couple of small variable changes it goes from being manageable to unacceptable. 

“‘Manageable’ means peak periods with queues of between 45 and 90 minutes. If we’re getting into processing wherethere’s delays of 12 or 14 hours, that’s clearly unacceptable.”

A government spokesperson said it had recently met coach operators to discuss how the new system might be implemented and was working closely with French authorities and port operators to avoid “unnecessary delays”.