Experts: By 2015 biometrics would do away with long lines at airports

Published 26 February 2008

The future of airport security checks: Automated gates would confirm an individual’s identity using biometrics before checking their biographic data for any updates in their security/legal/journey status against various databases

We wrote yesterday about TSA’s futurist Tunnel of Truth. Perhaps the future is closer than we think. By 2015 biometric technology will make getting on a plane almost as easy as getting on the bus or train today, according to a leading border security expert. Automated biometric systems will eventually replace the often laborious system of repeated manual passport and security checks which plague fliers today, said Matthew Finn, director of government and security for Atlanta, Georgia-based airline industry IT body Sita. ZDNet Asia’s Nick Heath writes that “trusted” travelers will simply pass through an automatic gate which will instantly verify their identity and security risk. Sita has had general talks with the U.K. government about future border control systems and has been involved in developing a number of precursors to these technologies, including the miSense biometric security trial at Heathrow Airport.

Current biometric border security projects being rolled out by the U.K. government include Project Semaphore, Iris, and the miSense trial. Semaphore, which checks U.K.-bound passenger details against databases of banned individuals and passenger name records to assess risk, and Iris, which lets fliers use automated iris scanning gates at several U.K. airports, have been used as part of the e-Borders scheme, which will go live next month after a thirty-nine-month trial. Finn said that future security systems will rely on e-passports, ID, smart cards, or visas which would contain biometric data — such as fingerprints and iris scans — and biographical data, ranging from name and address to job and marital status. Automated gates would first confirm an individual’s identity using biometrics before checking their biographic data for any updates in their security/legal/journey status against various databases.

Finn said the improvement of future automated biometric border gates over today’s Iris system would be comparable to the leap from VHS to DVD. He said: “The U.K. government is absolutely committed to simplifying passenger travel. Today you will stand in lines several times at a place like Heathrow; it really is repetitive checks and all of that can be integrated. By 2015 the majority of people arriving in and departing from the United Kingdom will hold an international standardized travel document that contains biometrics.” Finn added: “At that point, 99 percent of people will face only manual checks by exception rather than by rule. It gets to the point where it can almost be carried out as you walk.”

The biometric data would be stored on documents or cards, not on a central database, making the information faster to process and reducing the security risk. Another major advantage is that a single document or card could work with different biometric readers across the world by containing biometrics ranging from fingerprints to iris scans. A spokesman for the U.K. government’s Border and Immigration Agency said: “We have already tested trusted traveler schemes such as Iris and we are keen to learn and build on those.”