SAFETY & SECURITY Last modified on October 7, 2011

Biometrics report card

Matthew Finn reviews the adoption of the technology at airports and considers the benefits of its expanded use.
As industry debate continues to focus on concepts such as the 'checkpoint of the future',`fulltext` = 'next generation passenger screening' and 'intelligence-led, risk-based, outcome-driven aviation security' WHERE `id` = it's essential that we clearly understand the reality of how such concepts will be delivered and the enhancements they will bring.

We also need to know what international standards will be required to support them, and the benefits that all concerned stakeholders – airlines, airport operators, ground handlers, government agencies and passengers – can expect to realise from their adoption.

Even with the best intentions, strong political leadership and a clear commitment from all industry stakeholders to see new improvements delivered rapidly, it will still take several years for positive change to be effected across the entire industry.

And before we begin implementing new solutions, we need to be sure we understand the problems we're trying to solve.

While that may seem like a statement of the absolute obvious, the reality is that only just a few years – even months – ago, we were working in an industry that had not yet been exposed to a passenger travelling undetected with explosives in their underwear or the potential threat posed by co-ordinated acts of unlawful interference using bottles of Lucozade and Oasis.

We also hadn't witnessed how an everyday office printer could hide an ingeniously configured improvised explosive device and be shipped as cargo onboard multiple passenger aircraft through multiple airports.

As we learn the lessons from exposure to these new threats, we adapt. We adapt our regulations, our procedures, our detection systems and our training programmes in order to continually strengthen the international aviation security framework and remain vigilant in the face of new risks and challenges.

Shifting focus: From detection to identification

While the challenges are great and many, there is already much we can do to plan, prepare and respond to them. Importantly, one of the fundamental principles underlying each of the new concepts cited above is the need to focus on 'bad people, not bad objects'.

Utilising all available data

Arguably, biometrics – combined with intelligence and a smart use of biographic data such as Advance Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Record (PNR) data – represent one of the most robust mechanisms available to ensure that security personnel can correctly identify the identity of every passenger flying – or seeking to fly – on every aircraft worldwide.

Since April 1, 2010, the contracting states of ICAO now only issue machine-readable passports in accordance with the specifications of ICAO Document 9303. Furthermore, all non-machine readable passports will be out of circulation by November 24, 2015.

This means that as of November 25, 2015 (with very few exceptions), every passenger flying internationally will be in possession of a machine-readable passport (aka e-passport), complete with a biometric identifier to enable iris, fingerprint and/or facial recognition.

The technical experts who participated in the development of the ICAO standard will no doubt recall the many obstacles, technical and financial challenges that hindered and slowed the pace of adoption of biometrics over the years.

But as a result of sustained focus and pressure, this vital component that both strengthens the integrity of identity and travel documents – and improves the facilitation of the passenger journey globally – is now a reality.

Biometrics: Where to deploy?

In North America, in a number of high profile implementations over the past few years, biometrics have been used to support expedited passenger processing at the aviation security checkpoint in the form of Registered Traveller Progammes.

In Europe – in the UK, Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal to name just a few – biometric systems have been deployed to support expedited passenger processing in the form of Automated Border Control.

At the level of the European Union, the external borders agency, FRONTEX, has driven a number of initiatives and studies in the field, culminating in an Automated Border Control Study published in summer 2010 and setting the stage for considerably larger deployments across the 27 Member States of the EU.

And in the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions, notable deployments such as UAE e-Gate, Hong Kong e-Channel and Australia SmartGate, also afford returning nationals, permanent residents and/or foreign holders of e-passports faster and simpler immigration arrivals clearance via Automated Border Control.

However, in addition to the border and security checkpoint, biometrics can – and arguably must – also be deployed at airline self-service check-in kiosks, at entrances to restricted zones and at the departure gates themselves in order to continually assure the identity of passengers throughout the airport process.

Biometric applications enhance both security and passenger facilitation. For security and immigration, being able to establish identity and retrieve additional data to conduct risk assessments on a passenger-by-passenger basis, represents a significant step forward.

For facilitation, biometrics have inordinate potential to speed up passenger processing at the many airport control points – and provide an accurate view as to the status of each passenger checking in, clearing security, clearing outbound immigration and being ready to arrive on time at the departure gate.

Finally, as video surveillance becomes increasingly prevalent in our airports and the quality of image capture continues to increase, facial recognition can be used to alert authorities should a known person of interest be detected on the airport campus.

The long-awaited promise of biometrics has set industry expectations particularly high. But in order for large-scale benefits to be derived, it is imperative that biometric-based systems process large volumes of passengers.

While paid-for biometric schemes may offer expedited processing and additional benefits to those choosing to enroll in them on an interim basis; longer-term and on a larger scale, the industry as a whole has considerably more to gain from biometric systems being available to the vast majority of passengers.

These systems must be deployed throughout the entire airport process and be interoperable globally so that benefits can be realised airport-to-airport, country-to-country, region-to-region.

Advanced technology

US developer of advanced biometrics-based identity solutions, AOptix Technologies Inc (AOptix) uses adaptive optics – technology used in astronomical imaging to minimise distortion of distant objects – for iris recognition systems.

In advanced iris recognition biometrics, adaptive optics enables full automation of iris biometric image capture while compensating for subject motion to retain the spatial resolution needed to capture high-quality iris images.

AOptix currently manufacturers a handful of biometric systems for airports and claims that its new Dash Six Iris Recognition Enterprise SDK product is a "new breed of iris recognition software" offering powerful, flexible, iris image processing capabilities that include iris segmentation, encoding and matching.

"The Dash Six is already in use in demanding airport passenger terminals, secure facilities, and other environments where accuracy and consistency are critical," says Joseph Pritikin, director of product marketing at AOptix. "When coupled with images captured from our InSight system, it unleashes the full capability of iris recognition, providing industry-leading biometric performance." It counts Doha International Airport among its list of international customers.

About the author

Matthew Finn is managing director of AUGMENTIQ, a consultancy practice providing analysis, intelligence, training and strategic advice to organisations concerned with aviation security and border control.

Airport World 2011 - Issue 4

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