Blueprint for Security

Emerging biometric technologies have helped to simplify passenger flow and tighten security. Such measures are likely to impact the ground support community not just in terms of passenger handling, but also employee access control, writes Richard Rowe.


Overseas, the Australian Customs Services (ACS) is running a facial recognition test bed for automated border control using Qantas aircrew at Sydney Internation­al Airport. Although much press attention was generated when two Japanese executives fooled the system at an exhibition earlier this year, the ACS is keen to roll the service out to Australian passengers.

The system, known as SmartGate®, uses face recognition photo-matching technology to automatically verify the identity of aircrew passing the border control point. Each SmartGate “kiosk” performs the kind of face-to-passport check normally undertaken by a customs officer.

At the kiosk, air crew place their passport on a reader and look at a camera. After customs and immigration checks have been performed by the system and the facial features of the person have been compared to the stored features, the gate opens. The whole process takes less than 10 seconds, reports the ACS — ensuring the twin goal of efficient processing and a high quality of border control.

SmartGate has processed more than 3,000 Qantas aircrew since its introduction in November 2002. ACS finds that the technology is sufficiently robust to take into account complex variables, including age, ethnicity, expression and changes in appearance such as facial hair and glasses.

Trials have been so successful that there is now talk of extending the SmartGate system to other airlines and Australian airports this year. New Zealand officials are also reported to be considering the use of similar technology at their airports.

The Canadian CANPASS-Air project, and a joint initiative with the U.S. known as NEXUS-Air, will use iris recognition for border control. In the case of CANPASS, iris recognition technology will be used to authenticate pre-approved, low-risk travellers and clear them through express lane customs and immigration. Travellers wishing to join CANPASS-Air will be subject to a background security check and charged an annual fee of C$50. Express lane kiosks should be operational at Toronto Pearson and Vancouver airports by the end of March.

The ‘Eyes’ Have It

Perhaps the most telling trial to date was a six-month pilot of iris recognition technology for automated border control measures at London Heathrow last year. Initiated by the SPT group, and managed by the UK Immigration Department, the trial was supported by BAA and involved frequent flyers originating from North America on Virgin Atlantic and British Airways. Using the iris recognition technology product, JetStream™, from U.S. supplier EyeTicket, some 2,000 invited frequent flyers arriving in the UK were allowed to enter passport control quite literally, in the blink of an eye. JetStream stations were set up in the immigration halls of Terminals 3 and 4, from where the two airlines operate their North Atlantic routes. Passengers enrolled by looking into a video camera, which takes a close-up image of their iris. Digital pattern data is extracted from the image, digitally encoded, sorted, and then later compared with the passenger’s unique iris pattern on entering the immigration hall. On arrival at the airport, enrolled passengers glance at a camera about 10 inches away to have their identity verified. If the passenger’s iris pattern matches that of the stored digital code, a ticket is printed, a barrier opens, and they are free to enter the UK. Passengers’ average time to be admitted by immigration was around 12 seconds. Although the trial was used essentially to help simplify a passenger’s journey through the airport on arrival, there are clear applications in the long-term for using such technology for wider security related benefits.

Since October 2001, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport has used iris scanning as part of its Privium project, a premium package for mostly EU nationals that includes expedited border crossing, check-in and special car parking privileges on payment of an annual fee.

The system uses IrisRecognition™ software from U.S. -based Iridian Technologies licensed to Dutch security specialists, Joh. Enschede. Passengers use customised kiosks to accept their encrypted Privium smart cards; the kiosks identify and verify passengers by cross-referencing a real-time iris scan with each person’s pre-registered iris data stored on the card. Privium members, almost 6,000 at last count, now bypass lengthy immigration and border control lines. Similarly, border control agents can concentrate their manual passport examinations on unknown passengers rather than those registered “knowns” whose background checks reveal no security concerns.

We Recommend