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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Has mainstream biometric border control arrived?

20 October, 2011
With Biometric London 2011 now over for another year, a number of advancements have been on show for airport e-gates using biometric technology to ease the flow through border control
You know the e-gate lanes at UK airports, they're often the handful of empty lanes that everyone looks at and wonders how they can get enrolled. So far, they've been largely empty because they've been part of pilot schemes to measure how effective the system is likely to be.



However, the system could soon become mainstream, relieving the headache of passport queues at busy times in some of the busiest airports in the world and two factors have made this possible - the biometric passport and industry response.



This year's Biometrics 2011 saw a number of biometric companies exhibiting their solutions for border control e-gates including AOptix and Morpho. Combining robust technology that has overcome previous issues of repeatability, false positives and ease of enrollment with necessary partnerships with other industry players, biometrics is about to become available for wider use than pilot schemes and niche sectors like the military.



Manual biometric verification has been in place (with varying levels of reliability) in some countries for some time already but the standards have been questionable and it did nothing to improve throughput levels. These manual systems work by making a comparison between the passport photograph and a captured image of the passport holder to confirm identity. The captured image can also be compared to thousands of images stored in databases of wanted criminals, terrorists and political activists and in this respect has been successful in protecting the borders of a number of CIS countries and leading to the arrest of many criminals wanted internationally.



For high reliability and high throughput, automated comparisons are required and this can't use the image on a passport photograph. Instead, it makes use of the biometric template stored on the chip embedded in new-generation passports. Biometrically equipped e-gates require the passport to be swiped and the passport owner to present the associated biometric - iris, finger or face. If the biometric matches the template, the gate opens.



Concerns have been raised regarding the indentity theft implications of the biometric template but this is different from other personal identifiable information. Most of the personal information that we keep is a stand-alone number that can be matched to other information in various databases such as tax information, credit card numbers and social security codes. If this information falls into the wrong hands, it can be used against you. A biometric template is different, this is a piece of code generated by an algorithm and can only be used as a means of identification in a comparative sense by comparing it to the code generated by some physical attribute such as your face or iris. In this respect, it is similar to two-factor identification. For the template to be useful, you also need to possess the associated face, iris or fingerprint
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