Covid-19: Contactless biometrics in the spotlight
James Stickland, CEO at authentication platform Veridium, commenting on how contactless biometric authentication is the next logical step towards maximising the growth of the aviation sector whilst meeting altered passenger needs and concerns.
Since COVID-19 took hold, the aviation industry has struggled to stay afloat. It’s estimated that commercial aerospace and air travel will see a 50 percent reduction in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Last week, just 711 departures were recorded from the UK’s ten biggest airports, compared to 7,865 in the week up to lockdown. But with the edict of ‘essential travel only’, no one’s going on holiday and no one’s splurging for the comfy seats. This is forcing the industry to look towards innovative avenues to create efficiencies, and one such industry gaining traction is contactless biometrics.
It is clear that the aviation industry needs to adapt, and fast, which must mean embracing emerging technologies at airports. Facial recognition biometric gates have already helped streamline the huge number of people who travel into the country each year – nearly 1.45 million arrivals were recorded in the UK in the year up to June 2019. However, long queues at border control and terminals persist, with significant manpower needed to vet each individual. Every interaction or even touching biometric passport scanners, poses a level of risk for infection, whether it be COVID-19, flu, or the common cold. In a post-pandemic environment, neither passengers nor airlines will want people waiting in long queues in close proximity.
Contactless biometrics could be used to authenticate passengers passing through border control or departure gates, without having to place their hands anywhere near a scanner – simply authenticating digital identity through facial and digital fingerprint recognition. Not only does this protect passenger and worker health, but it could also alleviate some of the issues surrounding visa onboarding and immigration.
Take emergency visa applications, for example. Whether for key workers, or members of government, it’s critical to implement a fast turn-around. Agencies must approve the application and authenticate the individual in a matter of days – possibly hours – rather than weeks. By onboarding their biometric data into a national database, which can be accessed internationally, agencies can quickly and securely verify the application, and send the passenger through border control safely. Passport and visa applications are currently based on weak and outdated techniques, such as physical IDs or even third-person referrals. In a post-pandemic world, where international travel could become more complicated, a seamless authentication process that takes into account new health concerns, will be vital to the industry’s success.
Touchless biometrics is a market set for huge growth in a number of industries, and aviation is the next logical link in the chain. It’s not a new concept here either. 2019 saw significant developments in biometric technology rollout at international airports, including: Heathrow, Orlando, Los Angeles, JFK, and saw Delta Air Lines’ first biometric terminal in the US.
However, some question the accuracy of contactless biometrics, and others the security – worrying that their sensitive biometric data could be breached.
To address these concerns, it’s important to take a strategic approach to integrating biometrics – selecting the right biometric, for the right use case, in order to ensure high accuracy levels. In terms of the aviation industry, contactless fingerprint authentication is likely to be the dominant approach, considering it is the most mature biometric technique and doesn’t suffer from the same risk of challenge from poor lighting or wearing headgear. Fingerprint is also officially recognised as the standard approach to verifying identity by governments and the police globally, as well as by organisations such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
However, to ensure the highest level of security, no biometric should be used in isolation – a digital identity should be composed of a variety of biometric authentication techniques. With regards to data storage, integrating a blockchain based distributed data model – which encrypts biometric data in multiple places – renders it useless to a hacker. The decentralised nature of blockchain technology also ensures no organisation or government becomes the custodian of the public’s biometric data.
When lockdown measures ease, the aviation industry will be looking to the latest innovations to maximise growth and recoup losses, and the possibilities biometrics present are endless. The sector will not only have to answer their passenger’s need for a seamless, convenient travel experience – at a decent price – but also new health concerns born out of COVID-19, in which contactless biometric authentication can play a key role. Notably, this movement must start with governmental support and a regulatory push before it can move into mainstream adoption by airports and airlines. It is certain, however, that if the travel industry can’t find a way to combat these safety concerns, it will continue to struggle in the new post-COVID-19 climate.
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