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Biometrics Institute CEO discusses biometrics use at national borders


The Biometrics Institute CEO Isabelle Moeller recently penned an editorial that explores both the benefits and challenges of deploying biometric technologies at national borders.

The editorial comes a couple weeks after the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency updated the industry on its plans for biometric exit since it issued its initial request for information (RFI), CBP OIT Biometric Exit Acquisition last June, emphasizing that it will “continue to engage with industry regarding biometric exit”.

Moeller acknowledges that the adoption of biometric technologies at national borders around the world raises many key concerns.

“National security and personal privacy sit at the heart of the debate, but there is much more to it than this; the speed and efficiency of border checks together with the cost of deployment and the accuracy and reliability of the technologies are also key factors that weigh heavily on the minds of border agencies across the globe,” Moeller writes. “Although biometrics are undoubtedly a valuable addition to the evaluation of human identity, every biometric has vulnerabilities which must be carefully managed when the technologies are being deployed and the resultant data is used.”

She goes on to highlight several advantages to deploying biometrics at the border, including improved security measures, the ability to scale up operations, a decrease in delays for a more seamless traveling experience, the ability to respond more quickly to traffic fluctuations, and reduced operational costs.

The implementation of these technologies at national borders requires governments to align on biometric data management policy — which Moeller mentions is “currently far from consistent between nations” — but ultimately has the potential to significantly lower the chance of a suspicious individual passing undetected through immigration and customs.

However, Moeller emphasizes that biometric border control is not without its share of disadvantages, including a certain level of uncertainty and risk due to all biometric technologies being fallible, the limited resources biometric technology vendors have to test their solutions, the discrepancy between the results of solutions in simulated deployments and solutions which are live ‘in the field’, and the disruption to border operations and millions in taxpayer dollars for conducting ongoing ‘live’ trials.

She states how crucial it is for lawmakers to debate the moral and ethical questions that bolster their national policies for biometric data collection, storage, interrogation, and dissemination.

Moeller acknowledges that working towards a goal of “universal consistency across policy, deployment approach, and international border cooperation” is unrealistic, but asserts that there are several advantages to international stakeholder collaboration.

She recommends that government agencies, vendors, academics, specialist consultants, privacy advocates and industry watchdogs work together in a “commercially neutral environment” to explore and address issues and concerns through their shared expertise, ‘live’ field data, use cases and deployment experience.

“When convened, these stakeholders can work together for the benefit of the whole market, establishing best practices for secure and responsible deployment, for example, and working toward defining a set of guiding principles which can support the collaborative efforts of governments and vendors,” Moeller writes.

Finally, she highlights the work of Border and Travel Major Programs expert group within the Biometrics Institute, which is an international collective of border agencies, vendors and academics which facilitate dialogue, exchange information and updates its members on major border system projects.

Since its inception, the group has progressed from government-only meetings to encompass a wide range of international experts, decision makers and influencers.

“Biometric technology will continue to play a major part in the development of future immigration and border controls, affording border agencies process efficiencies, enhancing security and making the border experience more traveller-friendly,” Moeller writes. “ Using these sensitive, personal identifiers, however, requires an effective privacy ecosystem where the data is protected and where its usage is disclosed through the enforcement of robust retention policies.

“Only through collaboration between control agencies and technology suppliers can the industry develop the mutually beneficial guiding principles and best practices that will drive the development of borders capable of supporting the growth in global travel despite the increases in complexity and risk posed by 21st century living.”

Last September, the Biometrics Institute appointed Adam Hergert from ANZ Bank, Jason Holmes from Heathrow Airport, and Richard Agostinelli from Crossmatch to its board of directors.

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