Border biometrics challenges discussed at NIST conference

secunet announces Bulgaria deployment for EES

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The challenges faced by facial recognition systems on different platforms and their future use at borders was the first topic in focus at the International Face Performance Conference (IFPC) 2020, which began Tuesday.

The event is a chance for research teams and individuals working in the field to share their insight, concerns, and research order to further participants’ knowledge in areas of ‘performance, transparency, and trustworthiness.’

Considering new and forthcoming research, the early-morning sessions focused on the new ‘European Entry-Exit System’ (EES), an automated system used for more accurate recording foot traffic of Third Country Nationals (TCNs) into Europe, and ‘preventing cross-border crime’. These will be increasingly introduced on EU borders in the coming years as part of the European agendas on security and migration.

The first speaker was Istvan Szilard Racz, from the EU-LISA regulatory agency, which manages EU data-based systems. EU-LISA is using its interoperability with current EU systems to implement face-based entry and exit structures at EU borders. These will be connected to a powerful information network, aiming to become the largest biometric matching system in the world for screening third-country nationals.

The EES will collect fingerprint and facial information, record the date and location and replace physical passport stamping. In its place the traveller will use a self-service kiosk. The agency plans to collate this information in the EES database, and by 2024, to be able to link the information to any previously rejected applications or criminal data. Even then however, it will still require ‘human investigation.’

These systems will not be mandatory for member states to adopt.

The EES is EU-LISA’s response to the predicted 300 million annual border crossings by 2025, according to Racz’ presentation, though he says, “European citizens will be subjected to different processes when arriving from countries outside of the Schengen area.”

Their main aims are to ‘allow for the identification and detection of overstayers’ and ‘reinforce internal security’ according to presentation slides, working with law enforcement authorities to do so. Accuracy within the system will be highly dependent on the ‘quality of data captured at borders;’ for instance currently different business domains require different thresholds of quality. Consequently, border enforcement will be obliged to use, as an example, high quality and weather resistant cameras.

EU-LISA recognise that one of their biggest challenges in this area is around the processing and protection of children’s data – they plan to assess this as a priority.

In the second presentation, Anna Stratmann of BSI (the security service provider for the German government) shared insights from work on specific biometric processes within the Entry Exit System.

Stratmann identifies three issues which pose the greatest challenges to the processing of biometrics collected at borders. Precise angles and lighting conditions are essential in order to avoid accuracy or recognition issues. Further, gaining reliable fingerprint data from unsupervised scanners is a challenge, as she notes, because people often scan their dominant hand regardless of which is requested, or the system encounters ‘temporarily missing fingers’ (like if someone is wearing a bandage). Finally, travelling in groups can result in a mixing-up of data.

She concludes that processes within EES and shared by member states need to have security and efficiency at their center. In order for this system to work holistically, ‘biometric data quality is essential,’ and anticipating the challenges in interoperability is imperative.

How mask-wearing will affect these systems is still being researched.

Secunet and SSARM partner for a Bulgarian EES in 2021

Europe will soon be seeing a practical application of the discussed Entry Exit Systems; Bulgaria has announced that it plans to be one of the first countries within the EU (though not Schengen) to introduce EES at its land, sea and air borders starting from summer 2021.

Bulgarian authorities have tendered SSARM, which has in turn subcontracted secunet to implement state of the art biometric collection methods, including 20 easygates for automated border control (ABC) with face and fingerprint biometrics, 8 easykiosk self-service kiosks, and 66 easytowers with fingerprint scanners, according to a company announcement. Their deployment will begin in Sofia airport, with Varna and Burgas also expected to be completed in 2021.

The technology has been developed to identify fraudulent activity and presentation attacks.

The objective behind this movement toward automated border systems, is for ‘sustainable, safe and efficient border control,’ secunet says, in a time where mass movement through external European borders by undocumented third country nationals is becoming increasingly common.

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