Gov’t, industry officials hope airport biometrics lower traveler stress levels
Traveling through airports can be a stressful experience but government agencies across the United States, India, Vietnam and other countries are introducing biometric solutions that could speed up the process. Stakeholders including representatives of Idemia and the TSA convened for a panel to discuss the changes ahead.
What is the future of biometrics in North American travel?
During a webinar organized by Future Travel Experience, government officials and representatives from businesses including Idemia discussed how the United States is making progress in bringing biometrics to airports. The U.S. has faced an additional hurdle in building these systems as there is no national ID, unlike countries in Europe and other parts of the world.
“It’s taken us a little while to get to a place where we can connect up all of those driver’s license databases and do authentication against them,” says Anne Marie Pellerin, founder and managing partner at advisory company Lam Lha.
The U.S. Department of Homeland started to introduce the Comprehensive Biometric Entry and Exit Plan (CBP) back in 2016 with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rolling out pilots the following year. Today, U.S. airports have several projects incorporating biometrics, built by both government agencies and private sector partners such as airports and airlines, while CBP and TSA are collaborating to test the technologies according to NIST standards.
The progress that the U.S. has made in introducing biometrics in airports is largely thanks to the desire to introduce passenger vetting, says Matt Davies, executive director of admissibility and passenger programs at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Biometric exits are now located at 46 different airport locations. These have helped the agency identify overstays and impostors.
“We’re actually confirming the identity using [biometric facial comparison] technology, but always with the human touch,” says Davies, noting that an officer makes the final decision on evaluating the passengers’ documents.
The agency is working on a number of other programs including the Global Entry which is a trusted traveler program similar to mobile passport control that has exceeded over 12.3 million sign-ups, with over 3.1 million enrolled and renewed this year.
Others include mobile app programs which could reach 3.5 million users by the end of the year, says Davies. The Mobile Passport Control app designed for Canadian and U.S. citizens was launched in June and requires users to upload photos of themselves and their passports. Another is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application.
“When we’re using that as a matching service with the photos and the passport photos, the live selfie photos, we’re seeing match rates of about 99.46 percent,” says Davies. “It’s more secure for us, but also puts some of that control and that power back in the hands of the traveler to know what they should expect.”
The next step for the agency is seeing how they can align people and their bags, especially for international connecting passengers.
Matt Gilkeson, director of the TSA Innovation Taskforce, says that the agency has been excited to work on mobile driver’s licenses (mDLs) and digital IDs. The agency adopted the ISO/IEC standard for digital IDs that maintain privacy. Programs are already live in five states with over 25 airports across the country accepting mDLs.
“We’ve also got private label digital IDs with American Airlines which also allows us to do that one-on-one matching,” Gilkeson says.
Identity management will become a critical part of the security landscape, he adds. The current kind of state-of-the-art today is Credential Authentication Technology (CAT), which automates the verification of the ID, boarding pass information and secure flight matching.
Currently, the officer has to manually verify the match between the person and the credential, but with CAT2, the agency is moving a step forward in automation by allowing biometric verification of the ID credential. Within the next 12 to 18 months, the TSA will work with identity verification company Idemia on a nationwide rollout of a stronger security solution with an aim to switch from one-to-one matching to one-to-end matching for those customers who opt-in.
But Gilkeson also notes that technology is not the problem: “The people are the challenge.”
Idemia’s Lisa Sullivan agrees. The company’s senior vice president for travel and transport notes that when people who are traveling are stressed, they are less compliant.
“When they’re stressed, they also don’t spend as much money because they’re not happy,” she says.
The introduction of new programs for travel is a great way to reduce stress and Idemia has been helping TSA in several of them, including the Pre-Check program which has so far enrolled 18 million passengers. The program allows passengers to get shorter lines by paying US$70 for five years. Idemia says that the next big thing in travel will be mobile identities.
“Digital identities are here,” says Sullivan. With the advent of mobile IDs including TSA’s acceptance of mobile IDs and mDLS, more users will start to adopt these solutions, she adds.
Airline companies are also investing in biometrics and digital IDs. Air Canada has expanded its biometric facial recognition pilot program boarding aircraft and entering lounges.
Delta Air Lines has been working on new biometrics around digital ID to allow customers to go through TSA and board the aircraft without showing anything.
Vietnam, India deploy more biometrics at airports
Other countries across the world are pushing their own projects to streamline flying with biometrics.
The latest news comes from Vietnam, where five airports have launched automatic entry systems called Autogate. In April, the country announced it had chosen Vision-Box for its border modernization project.
The arrival terminals will be accessible to all Vietnamese citizens holding chip-based passports. Passengers without such passports will be allowed to register for the service by scanning their passports and fingerprints, as well as going through facial recognition, VietnamNet reports.
India is also expanding its Digi Yatra facial recognition-enabled boarding system to another airport, this time in Guwahati in the state of Assam. The airport will allow passengers to register their documents on the Digi Yatra app and enter the airport just by scanning their faces, Live Mint reports.
Users of Digi Yatra biometric ID checks reached 1.74 million in July. The app was launched in December as part of a public-sector initiative and after launching across an initial seven airports, authorities announced in April that the program will be rolled out at an additional seven locations, including Guwahati.
Idemia has won a contract to provide facial recognition for Digi Yantra managed by GMR Group, which operates airports in Delhi, Hyderabad and Goa.