Biometrics touted as key to stress-free flights

Catching a plane will one day be as easy as Tube or train travel today, according to a leading border security expert
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

By 2015, biometric technology will make getting on a plane almost as easy as getting on the Tube 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 that plague fliers today, said Matthew Finn, director of government and security for airline industry IT body Sita.

"Trusted" travellers will simply pass through an automatic gate that will instantly verify their identity and security risk.

Sita has had general talks with the UK 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 UK government include Project Semaphore, Iris and the miSense trial.

Semaphore (which checks UK-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 UK airports) have been used as part of the e-Borders scheme, which will go live next month after a 39-month trial.

Finn said that future security systems will rely on e-passports, ID, smart cards or visas that 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 UK 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 UK will hold an international standardised 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 UK government's Border and Immigration Agency said: "We have already tested trusted traveller schemes such as Iris and we are keen to learn and build on those."

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