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The challenges of biometric border crossings

Border Security Report webinar examines implications of EES
The challenges of biometric border crossings

The introduction of Entry-Exit Systems (EES) relying on biometric data collection on the United States and European Union borders will have wide-reaching effects on international travelers.

A new webinar organized by the Border Security Report examined the implications of the new Entry-Exit System in these two regions, their similarities, and the lessons learned during their rollout.

The U.S. has been trying to tackle the biometric exit mandate for years, struggling with challenges such as a lack of infrastructure, funding, resources, and sometimes stakeholder support, explains Jonathan Prescott, Program Manager of the Biometric Entry-Exit Strategic Transformation at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The agency has traditionally relied on fingerprint capture. But after witnessing vulnerabilities such as faded fingerprints due to work or age or missing fingers, the CBP switched to facial biometrics.

“This facial biometrics has allowed us to drastically increase our ability to detect imposters,” says Prescott.

The U.S. now has biometric checkpoints at 48 airports. By August this year, the system had identified 1851 impostors and 275,371 overstays. Biometric match rates have been high with 99 percent on entry and 98 percent on exit. The US Customs and Border Protection has been using a NEC algorithm and has partnered with the National Institute of Science Standards and Technology (NIST) to enhance its comparison process.

“To ensure high accuracy rates as well as efficient processing we use a small gallery to match. Since it’s a smaller data set, we were able to get a higher quality on our match rates,” says Prescott.

Last week, the agency also launched a new Global Entry Mobile Application which enables travelers enrolled in Global Entry to complete their arrival processing by taking a selfie which is processed through facial biometrics.

The new European Entry-Exit System may be even more impactful than the US one since it is often a transit destination for international journeys.

Europe’s plan for EES is to combine biometric and biometric data into a central database which will help it keep track of overstays. One of the elements of this project is the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).

The EU-LISA project will have the task of introducing interoperability between different systems, including components such as the European search portal, shared biometric matching service, common identity repository and a multiple identity detector.

“It will create a kind of backbone which connects all the system in a unique way and will make it much more easy and accessible for both the border guards and our authorized personnel to access data and cost check them to a search single search port,” says Luca Tagliaretti, Deputy Executive Director of EU-LISA.

Mobile biometric identification and vehicle tracking could also be the EU’s alternative to reintroducing internal border controls, according to the European border agency Frontex.

Countries on the continent, however, are still facing multiple challenges. Estonia is one of the countries that is trying to introduce the Entry-Exit System by equipping its border checks with biometric enrollment equipment while trying to keep visa processing time from increasing.

“What we learned first is that face enrollment is much more complicated than expected,” says Rein Syld, Program Manager at the Information Technology and Development Center under the Estonian Ministry of the Interior.

The country has been introducing mobile solutions at border crossings, including a tablet equipped with a fingerprint reader and document reader. Estonian border authorities, however, have struggled to find a tablet on the market with good enough cameras to capture faces that are compliant with ISO standards. and ended up working with the private sector to develop an app that is compliant with their requirements.

Border crossings also need to think of whether their facilities are large enough to host self-registration terminals and even replace their lighting to ensure there are no shadows cast on the faces during biometric enrollment. The most challenging scenario has been outdoor environments on land and sea border checkpoints. Rain and snow have sometimes prevented capturing faces altogether, explains Syld.

But border crossings are also facing other challenges, such as capturing biometric data from children.

“If you were matching a three-year-old child with a passport with its picture as a newborn, there is probably going to be a failure from certain systems,” he says.

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