Idemia brings government experience to accelerating airport biometrics deployments
In the rapidly evolving airports and borders space, all stakeholders have become convinced of the value of biometrics to balance convenience and security, and even privacy, according to an industry expert.
Beyond that consensus, however, there is a significant divergence in thought and approach. There are many opinions about airport biometrics, but few people among the general public are clear about what is happening “behind the curtain,” Idemia VP of Border Control & Passenger Flow Facilitation Emmanuel Wang told Biometric Update in an interview.
“They don’t know that different parties don’t necessarily talk to each other or have the same objectives and constraints,” he explains.
Wang sees the replacement of different processes and credential checks with a single identifier, in accord with IATA’s One ID initiative and like Idemia implemented at Changi in Singapore, as a way to replace what seems to travelers to be a repetitive series of identity checks. Those checks have previously been necessary, however, due to those differences in objectives and constraints, which differ from country to country.
“People don’t see it but in practice its as complex as in one simple equipment, one e-gate, at the entrance we identify people with biometrics for the airport to cross to the airside, and in the same gate, the second door has a different type of setup where we identify the person for the government to actually cross the border,” he says. “It’s within the same e-gate, but the two systems do not directly talk to each other.”
Making systems work in a unified way while dealing with those constraints takes some finesse.
“Everyone recognizes that we should try to converge here, but it’s not always easy to make governments and private entities talk together, and its even more difficult to get them to try to share sensitive information, which could be names or biometrics,” Wang points out.
The differences in different markets are seen in the adoption of biometrics when exiting the borders of the U.S. and the Schengen Zone. The U.S. already had identity checks on the way in, but did not confirm identity on the way out, so the government decided to leverage the existing workflow to get airlines to confirm it for them. By contrast, Wang explains, the Schengen area has had a different history of regular and irregular migratory patterns, which led it to perform identity checks for people leaving the free-movement area before biometric technology reached the point of helping with that process and allowing Schengen Member States to reliably record each entry and exit. Now, as biometrics roll out across borders, the burden on government agencies is increasing, even when their budgets or staff numbers are not.
“The governments can’t do it alone, they cannot add manpower everywhere, so they will rely a lot on automation and information from e-gates, kiosks, and so on that will probably be purchased by the airports to be part of the airport infrastructure,” Wang says.
By 2022, the new Schengen entry/exit system (EES) will be in place. Implementations will not only need to meet the nuanced requirements of each country, but provide choice and flexibility to meet different traveller and business needs.
“I think the airports and governments will have to accommodate all those types of solutions and make sure they’re interoperable, and can work in synch for all different kinds of travelers. You cannot propose a solution that only applies to millennials who like to use biometrics and don’t have kids.”
Wang compares the airport identification system of the future to payments, where cash exists as an analogue option complementing a variety of digital methods of achieving the same thing, so that “in the end it’s the choice of each person.”
Governments are very particular about the details of any implementation, according to Wang, which generally means systems have to be customized.
“That being said, I can see some kind of convergence with the use of technology behind it,” he says. “In the end, what we are providing at Idemia is the way to securely and conveniently and with respect for travelers’ privacy identify travelers, both for airlines, airports and for governments. Our solutions follow all the same principles; they’re meant to be very modular and very flexible, and of course they will be implemented in different ways, but the underlying principles are the same.”
Converged systems like One-ID or the Singapore deployment require a greater level of engagement between governments and airport stakeholders than is often found, however.
“The structure is there, there are management bodies to do this,” Wang says. “The technology is there to have things work together. What’s missing right now is probably the will, especially from some governments.”
Idemia recently launched its “Gen 3.0 Border & Airport platform” and expanded its capacity in Australia in order to support the innovation and growth in the region, coping for these very specificities.
At land borders and sea ports, Wang characterizes the identity ecosystem as less mature than in aviation, with its stakeholders not as united, but then, he notes, there are also sometimes fewer passengers. The technology, unlike when the Schengen area’s previous common external borders were established, is ready now, and the necessary standards, best practices, and architectures have been established.
Wang expects deployments to accelerate, particularly in Europe, where a steady stream of announcements will only increase as the new EES implementation deadline approaches. As border systems are updated, Wang says that while Idemia provides leading biometric technologies, its greatest advantage is actually its experience with making large scale systems work for governments and users.
“Even if you have the greatest biometric algorithms and devices and software, one of the main challenges or points of interest is related to ergonomics and user experience; how you implement those algorithms into end-to-end systems, including real-life equipment, to make the biggest types of implementations that are actually usable by travelers.”