Last February, the Finnish Border Guard issued a press release about an incident where two Finnish citizens tried to pass through Helsinki Airport’s automated border control at the same time. The episode also made the national news.
While trying to bypass the passport machine might sound relatively harmless, in fact, border control is not something to fool around with. According to The Finnish Border Guard, an incident such as this can be penalized as a border offense, the maximum penalty for which is is one year in prison.
“However, the misconduct has to intentional to be penalized", says Juho Vanhatalo, Head of the Crime Prevention Unit at the Gulf of Finland Coast Guard. "If it was the passenger's aim to avoid a border check, we may suspect a state border offense.”
In other words, trying to sneak past a passport machine without a legitimate passport check is a similar offence to crossing any other state border without passing through an official border crossing point.
“However, no one can be guilty of a state border offense because of an innocent mistake at an automated gate,” Vanhatalo assures.
Automated border control becoming more common
Automated border control is based on biometric identification. Biometric passports contain a microchip that the device reads, comparing the passenger's facial dimensions against an image on the chip.
At Helsinki Airport, automated border control gates are used at checkpoints, as they improve passenger flow and save passengers' time. Usually, an automatic border check takes only 15 seconds.
The minimum height for using the automated passport control machines is 130 cm. Moreover, passengers who use a wheelchair and passengers travelling with infants should continue to use the traditional border control gates.
Since 2017, all EU citizens have had biometric passports, and the use of automated border control is increasing across many European countries. At Helsinki Airport the citizens of EU, EEA, Switzerland and Japan can use the passport machines at arrival and departure if they have an e-passport (biometric passport). Registration in advance is not needed. Even citizens of Korea, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zeeland can use the passport machines whenever they are departing.