Will airports look at biometrics?

December 2001 Access Control & Identity Management

With the diabolical terrorist attacks on the very heart of America on 11 September 2001, everyone is talking about how to tighten security, with fingerprint identification looking to be the most popular method airports in the US will adopt.

This is according to Clive Handley, Security Specialist at NamITech, the end-to-end secure technology specialist in the JSE Securities-listed Nampak group.

Handley said that airports are set to become among the largest users of smartcards and biometrics. Already, Chicago's two main airports, O'Hara and Midway Airport, are likely to require 55 000 employees to identify themselves with chip cards carrying fingerprint data. "If the latest reports prove correct, fingerprint-verification readers will be installed on nearly 1100 doors leading to restricted areas such as airport tarmac and baggage-handling rooms. It also seems very likely that air travellers, too, will soon have to identify themselves with chip cards and biometrics.

"It certainly seems like biometric fingerprint technology is going to be widely-used as a weapon to increase airport security. Using this type of biometric application, passengers can be scanned at check-in and again as they board the aircraft. It is also a less intrusive method," said Handley.

"One of the other possible biometric-based solutions that could be used is hand geometry. Airports all over the world are starting to use hand readers to secure their most sensitive areas, including aircraft operations and baggage handling facilities. At San Francisco International Airport, hand readers now control the doors leading to the tarmac, where baggage handlers and other support personnel service planes. The verification process takes less than a second; it is reliable and definitely enhances security.

In South Africa, NamITech has already successfully installed a hand geometry solution at Anglo Gold where miners have their hands scanned before entering the mines. This has worked well in terms of tracking time and attendance of employees and has also removed the risk of unidentified persons entering the mines undetected.

Handley said one of the most disconcerting aspects of the attacks is that the hijackers of the four commercial aeroplanes were able to smuggle weapons on board - something that never should have happened. "This is quite incredible.

"What needs to be done, as a basic move, is to be able to positively identify every passenger boarding an aeroplane.

"Travellers may have some reluctance to accept increased security measures using biometrics. They may feel it will slow the travel process down or consider the methods an invasion of privacy. However, one really has to be realistic. Better security measures have to be put in place, or else we could possibly face another terrible attack," concludes Handley.

For further information, contact Clive Handley on (011) 258 6900 or chandley@velocit-e.net

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