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Close up portrait of woman with facial recognition technology. Grid with reference areas marked on face. Young girl against out of focus airport background.
#Biometric Authentication

How biometric technology is set to revolutionize border control

New Technology
6 Mins.

Border control is a challenging discipline that has faced further upheaval as a result of the coronavirus. Developments in biometric technology offer governments the chance to improve the experience of travelers and border staff while reducing security threats

Border control has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic as countries have closed frontiers to protect citizens against the coronavirus. A Border Force officer based at Heathrow airport, for example, claimed in May 2021 that the processing of UK nationals was taking 15 minutes per person, instead of the 30 seconds it took pre-COVID.1

The rules around what travelers can and cannot do are different depending on a person’s status and the country they wish to enter. Entry into Australia, one of the first countries to completely close its borders, is strictly controlled. There are 10 different categories of exemptions, including permanent residents arriving from abroad and those holding a Business Innovation and Investment visa.2

In the EU, temporary border controls were reintroduced in the Schengen Area – the group of 26 European countries in which such controls do not exist in normal times.3

All these developments mean border security has become even more demanding than usual. Back in 2015, PwC described border management as “one of the great challenges of our times”.4

How biometrics can help with border security

Crop backview of business people legs walking with luggage at the airport with no waiting time

As risk levels continue to fluctuate around the world, governments need to have more agile solutions to make the experience better for travelers, to reduce ongoing security threats, and to improve the working conditions for front-line staff. Technology is playing a key role in helping to meet these objectives. In particular, developments in biometrics promise to improve document verification and identity verification procedures. Here are three examples:

3-D facial recognition: sensors are used to capture and process a three-dimensional image of a person’s face. Unlike 2-D systems, which require a face to be looking directly into a camera in good lighting, 3-D technology is able to detect a face that is angled, poorly illuminated, or not fully in focus.

Iris-on-the-go verification: like fingerprints, no two irises are the same. Iris-scanning cameras can measure the patterns in a person’s eye to create a unique profile. The most advanced technology enables iris verification to take place on-the-go, rather than requiring a person to be static and close to the camera.

Somatotype analysis: American psychologist and physician William Sheldon is credited with developing a classification system according to different human physical types – endomorphic, mesomorphic, and ectomorphic – known as somatotype. 2-D cameras and associated software can be used to capture, recognize and analyze a person’s somatotype, even while they are on the move, to aid identification and verification.

On its own, biometric information provides unique ways to identify and verify individuals. But combining them has multiple benefits for border protection, notably increased accuracy and security. Consequently, it is no surprise that governments are looking into the possibilities biometric systems offer to improve border security.

“The iris has proven to be a great biometric feature because it does not change throughout a person’s lifetime, it is unique, and it allows touchless verification even while the person is moving“
Andreas Räschmeier, CEO of Veridos

Biometric data and the EU

In 2019, the EU-funded the D4FLY project started to “identify, reduce, and avoid vulnerabilities in the identity life cycle of modern border management.”5 To meet its goal of developing real-time identity verification, the ongoing project has been evaluating new technologies to help counter some specific problems: forged documents; impostor fraud – when someone pretends to be someone else; and morphed faces, in which criminals create digitally altered photos to obtain a passport or visa.

Veridos, a world-leading provider of integrated identity solutions, is coordinating the project, which involves 18 other partners. One of the experimental prototypes, which is fully compliant with EU data protection and privacy regulations, involves the creation of a biometric corridor. This has been designed to replace the need to stop at a booth to have a person’s identity and documentation verified by an official or devices such as eGates.

Having voluntarily registered a passport and biometric characteristics at an enrollment kiosk before departure, a passenger simply walks through the biometric corridor – where multiple cameras and sensors verify the previously captured data – at their destination. Iris-on-the-go verification is one of the technologies that has been tested within the corridor.

“The iris has proven to be a great biometric feature because it does not change throughout a person’s lifetime, it is unique, and it allows touchless verification even while the person is moving,” said Andreas Räschmeier, CEO of Veridos.

Other technologies that the D4FLY project is trialing include thermal and multispectral imaging to counter spoofing, deep neural networks to detect impostor and document fraud, convolutional neural networks to detect morphed faces, and computer vision algorithms to detect passport forgery.

At the halfway point of the D4FLY project – it is scheduled to finish in August 2022 – all the technologies continue to be developed to prevent misuse and manipulation. New techniques, such as tools to prevent face masks being used to circumvent biometric verification technology, are also being investigated.

The future will continue to throw up new challenges to border control, but biometric technology provides governments and law enforcement with some of the tools they require to overcome them.

  1. ‘It’s pretty common’: fake documents add to Border Force officials’ Covid woes, theguardian.com, 2021

  2. Travel restrictions and exemptions, Australian Government, 2021

  3. Temporary Reintroduction of Border Control, European Commission, 2021

  4. The Future of Border Management, PwC, 2015

  5. D4FLY, d4fly.eu, 2021

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