UK E-Gate Outage Raises Concerns Over EU’s Upcoming EES Launch

UK E-Gate Outage Raises Concerns Over EU’s Upcoming EES Launch

On May 7th, the UK’s airport e-gates, which use facial recognition technology to process travelers at the border, experienced a widespread outage.

This caused significant delays and long queues at major airports like Heathrow, Gatwick, and Manchester.

Disruptions cause delays for thousands

The British Home Office investigated and ruled out a cyberattack, attributing the disruption to a nationwide technical issue.

Despite the outage, border security stayed intact, and there was no sign of malicious cyber activity.

At 7:44 pm, engineers noticed the network issue and quickly activated a large-scale contingency response. Border Force workers had to manually process passengers, leading to longer waiting times.

The Home Office apologized to affected travelers and thanked airlines for their cooperation during the incident.

Ongoing challenges of the UK’s border technology

The incident on May 7th was not the first time that the UK’s automated e-gates have had problems.

In May 2023, there was an IT issue affecting airports nationwide.

Then, in August of the same year, about 2,000 flights were canceled because the National Air Traffic Services system, which processes flight plans automatically, had a failure.

These repeated issues have raised concerns about the reliability of the UK’s border technology, especially with the upcoming changes to the European Union’s (EU) entry and exit procedures.

EES set to launch in October

In October, the EU plans to launch its new Entry/Exit System (EES).

This system, introduced after Brexit, will require fingerprints and facial scans from UK travelers going to EU countries and those in the Schengen Zone.

Its goal is to improve border security and make it easier for non-EU citizens, including UK citizens, to enter and leave countries.

However, a recent report found that almost two-thirds of UK adults are unaware of this new system.

Many expressed concern about facial recognition technology and the storage of their biometric data for three years.

Because of this lack of awareness and concern among UK travelers, some experts fear there could be chaos at the border when the system starts.

Delayed EES app adds concern over implementation

The UK government had planned to introduce an app to make the EES process smoother and reduce queues at airports and seaports. However, it recently announced that the app would be delayed.

This has added to concerns about whether both the UK and the EU are ready for the new system.

The Border Force wants to make an “intelligent border” using advanced facial technology in new e-gates. However, because of recent technical issues with the current system, critics have questioned this plan.

Trials for the new e-gates will take place this year, but their success remains uncertain in light of the ongoing challenges.

Another travel requirement for UK citizens visiting the EU

Alongside the EES, the EU plans to launch the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) in 2025.

Similar to the United States’ Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and the UK’s electronic travel authorization (ETA), ETIAS will require visa-exempt third-country nationals, including UK citizens, to apply for travel authorization before entering the EU.

To apply, most travelers will need to pay a €7 fee, but there are exceptions for people under 18 and over 70 years old.

If approved, the ETIAS will be valid for three years, allowing multiple trips. However, if a traveler’s passport expires or their ETIAS expires while they are in the EU, they will need to apply for a new one.

Gradual implementation of EES for minimal disruptions

Guy Opperman, the UK’s Minister for Roads and Local Transport, has suggested that the EU might introduce the EES slowly over six months.

This approach would aim to reduce long lines and complications at the UK-EU borders. This way, the change would have little impact on travelers and border workers, making the switch to the new system easier.

However, Yann Leriche, the chief executive of Eurotunnel, disagreed with claims of significant disruptions. He said that the new border technology would only extend trips by five to seven minutes, ensuring a quick and smooth process.

Challenges and uncertainties ahead

As the UK grapples with recurring e-gate failures and prepares for the implementation of the EU’s Entry/Exit System, concerns over potential travel disruptions and the readiness of both parties to handle the new requirements continue to grow.

While efforts are being made to minimize the impact on travelers, such as the proposed gradual introduction of the EES and the development of a mobile app, the success of these measures remains to be seen.

As the October launch date approaches, it is crucial for both the UK and the EU to address the technical challenges and ensure clear communication with the public to facilitate a smooth transition to the new border control system.