Eyelids, Oculoplastic Surgery and Biometrics
Biometrics is about facial recognition and facial features which are individual and unique to each person. It includes iris recognition which measures unique patterns on the coloured circle of patient’s eyes to verify and authenticate identity. This is very fast and effective. Thirdly there is also fingerprint biometrics which can be used to identify criminals but also can be used at borders for security.
Different countries have different biometric sensors at borders in order to identify and match people with their passports or other travel identification documents.
At Heathrow, for instance, every passenger holding an E-passport goes through visual electronic security and is checked. The E-passport has a biometric chip in it and they use facial recognition and matching technology to match the passenger’s live image to the image held within the passport chip. That is then sent to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) System for real-time additional checks. Once everything is matched and approved, the gate opens and the passenger can pass freely through Border Control.
In this week, I have had a couple of patients who have failed to pass through Border Control using this method for eyelid reasons. The first patient was post-blepharoplasty, done in the USA. She used to have quite thick heavy eyelids. Before she went to the States, she had a big blepharoplasty done on her upper eyelids and the eyelid hooding and heaviness was completely removed, giving her high skin creases and deep sulci and she looked absolutely fantastic. However, she did not look like the same at all with the data kept on the biometric chip in her passport and so the machine rejected her.
I then had a second patient who had a drooping upper lid. In other words, they developed a ptosis where one eyelid was dropping down more than the other and was partly covering over the iris on one side. Again, the biometrics kept in the chip in her passport did not match the real image taken at the airport. Therefore, she was refused authorisation and had to go to the other queue just like the first lady and talk to the Border Control officer, before being let through.
Patients should be aware that if they have cosmetic eyelid surgery (or if they have a problem such as a ptosis) and they have had their passport for some years, they may look different from that passport picture. As a result, they may not be recognised at the border using the biometric data stored in their passport. The UK passports are valid for usually 10 years and that time people’s appearances might change and people can have oculoplastic surgery and this might cause problems for their facial recognition at borders.
I just thought I would like to bring this fascinating new realisation about biometric data and border controls to your attention so that you realise that if you do develop an eyelid droop or eyelid problem of any type, or if you have eyelid surgery, you may end up not going through the automatic control border machines but having to queue in a slightly longer queue to see the border officer.
Your decision is whether to take your passport back and get new biometric data made at the passport office before the passport expires, or head for the other queue.
Or alternatively, if you are James Bond…