​Robots to replace border police? To speed up lines at airports, French firm to scan your irises

A visitor tries French manufacturer Thales'border control system with automated biometric at the International Paris Airshow at Le Bourget on June 17, 2015. (AFP Photo/Eric Piermont)
In an effort to speed up travelers’ passage through airports, a French electrical systems company has come up with robots that could soon replace border police.

"You would only need one agent for every four or five machines," said Pascal Zenoni, a manager for Thales, a company that specializes in electrical systems for the aerospace, defense and security sectors, said while presenting the new product at the Paris Air Show this week.

Passengers won’t have to deal with check-in desks, as Thales wants their machines to scan passports and print boarding passes. The technology, which is already in place at many airports, is taken further.

Thales’ tall, white robots will also record an image of the passenger's face and of their irises. The biometrics will be used to confirm the passenger’s identity and then shared with computers around the airport. An encrypted image of the person’s face would also be printed on boarding passes to enhance safety.

"These systems can free up staff for the police and create more space in the airport," Zenoni said, The Local reported.

Thales already produces biometric passports and IDs for 25 countries, France among them. The multinational company, headquartered in the suburbs of Paris, has the French state as a major shareholder.

In March, the US Customs and Border Protection tested a system similar to Thales product, the Apex Air Entry and Exit Re-Engineering Project. The AEER used facial recognition software to match passengers with their ID photos. The experiment sparked privacy concerns among experts.

"Here we have a program where individuals are not suspected of wrongdoing and are engaged in routine behavior, and they are being required to submit a piece of biometric data that could identify them later and that’s going to be retained," Jake Laperruque, fellow at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told Motherboard at that time.

Others were worried the practices could gain a wider application.

"Today, it’s testing at the border, tomorrow it could be facial recognition deployed in public places," Dave Maass, Electronic Frontier Foundation, also said. "Today, the photos taken are being kept segregated from other departments and agencies, tomorrow they could be shared for a whole host of other purposes."