Border stakeholders plan next steps in biometrics rollouts with early lessons in tow
The role of biometrics at border crossings, including but not limited to airports, has only increased in importance post-pandemic, a webinar panel presented by Future Travel Experience and Idemia told its audience. Support for that claim is seen in a new deployment in France, and updates from membership-based biometric traveler systems operated by Clear and Star Alliance.
‘Next Generation Border Entry with Biometrics’ examined the implementation of biometrics throughout the traveler’s border-crossing experience.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Biometric Entry/Exit Transformation Director Larry Panetta presented the agency’s vision for future border entry based on face biometrics and the technology’s benefits for all stakeholders. He noted the various applications it can support, the partnerships behind them, notably including with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and explained how the processes work, whether for departing cruise lines or arriving flights.
The biometric identity verification process has reached all air border entry points in the country, Panetta says, and about 18 percent of departures, as well as over 2,300 debarking cruise ships and 157 pedestrian crossings. Biometrics have helped identify 1,434 imposters to date, according to the presentation.
The match rates range from 98 percent for maritime systems, through 98.4 percent for pedestrians and 98.1 percent for air departures, to 99.3 percent for air entries, according to a CBP slide.
Panetta also reviewed the privacy impact assessments and engagement with privacy advocates around the program.
In the longer term, CBP’s vision is to be part of an ecosystem in which presentation of physical ID documents is not a necessary, or even normal part.
Lessons from early adoption
Miami Dade County Aviation Department Director Information Systems and Telecommunications Maurice Jenkins presented Miami Airport’s biometrics use as a response to challenges faced by all airports. Miami just faced them and responded with biometrics deployments earlier than most due to its size, as one of America’s busiest airports.
From the implementation of Simplified Arrival in 2018, passenger processing sped up dramatically, with the largest airplanes being boarded in only 15 minutes. Customer surveys also showed higher overall satisfaction. There was a learning process for the implementation of biometrics, and the airport authority found focused on keeping the process simple to make it understandable for the highest number of passengers.
Jenkins referred to the use of mobile driver’s licenses with the CAT 2 devices from Idemia as part of the evolution towards better airport experiences for passengers.
He acknowledged some mishaps along the way, but suggested that they are a normal part of the introduction of any major system upgrade.
One corridor was flooded with bright sunlight that impeded the capture of images that the biometric system could match, in an example provided by Jenkins.
Idemia’s Lisa Sullivan noted that traveler numbers have crept back to around the same level, and are still expected to double from their previous high within a generation.
Sullivan emphasized the importance of running pilots to make improvements to workflows or technology to make improvements to systems before they reach full production.
Discussion during the question and answer period covered the privacy implications of border biometric systems, the CBP’s relationship with TSA as a service provider for the services used by domestic travelers, like touchless brag drop, and what airports and airport processes will look like in ten years.
Bordeaux Airport has opened a passport control system based on face biometrics, known as PARAFE, for use by adult passengers.
The airport says the system involves seven steps, from approaching the gate and passport scanning to facial verification. The system also allows only one border control officer to process five passengers simultaneously.
The PARAFE system can be used by eligible travelers on international and Schengen-region flights.
Subscription services rise
Clear is offering a ‘Couples Package,’ spotted by Condé Nast Traveler, with a pair of biometric ID accounts going for $239 instead of the roughly $249 they would normally go for with a $189 individual account and an additional family member. The package is also bundled specially for gifting, and represents the company’s latest initiative to boost its impressive subscriptions numbers.
The scheme was launched with unfortunate timing against the backdrop of the pandemic, going live in November 2020. It is now expanding both to different airports, and different touchpoints within each airport.