Airport security - the ongoing case for biometrics

February 2003 Access Control & Identity Management

Following recent scares at airports throughout the world over the last year, one would have thought security would have become a major focus area for airport authorities.

Apparently not so, and certainly not in Canada. In a recent Senate Committee report on air travel in Canada, some startling facts were revealed including:

* Cabin crew and even pilots are sometimes asked to perform security checks - tasks for which they have not been trained.

* There are 80 000 people working for Canadian airlines or airports, most of whom receive unrestricted access to airport property following cursory background checks. This includes access to restricted areas.

* Luggage and mail being regularly loaded onto the plane without sufficient checking.

One point that may count in Canada's defence is that they conducted this year-long investigation and found themselves lacking before anything too serious happened. It took the events of 11 September and two multimillion pound heists for London's Heathrow Airport to consider significantly increasing security measures, particularly around checks for airport staff and controlled access to restricted areas. Towards the middle of last year the new measures were announced, including extended counter-terrorism and criminal background checks on security staff and a revised national standard for the issue of restricted zone access cards.

Performing all the required background security checks on staff and positive identification of passengers at check-in is a vital part of the overall security of an airport. However, increasingly, technology is being looked towards to ensure almost foolproof security for both staff and travellers. As an emerging security technology with great potential, biometric solutions will likely have a key role to play.

One of the 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.

A further example of the successful implementation of hand geometry is at Ben Gurion International Airport at Tel Aviv. Israeli citizens and frequent international travellers now go through the airport's automatic inspection kiosks. During enrolment, the system captures biographic information and biometric hand geometry data. During arrival or departure, a credit card is used for initial identification of the travellers while the system verifies their identity with a hand reader. The system then prints a receipt to allow the travellers to proceed.

The automatic inspection kiosks are mostly used by people who are known frequent flyers and considered low risk. As a result, airport and border security officials can focus on unknown travellers. This improves security and reduces waiting time.

Several other international airports are investigating the feasibility of implementing biometric-based security systems:

* The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is working with SITA, a Swiss company owned by 740 airports and airlines, on a joint smartcard project called S-travel. The aim of the project is to look into providing passenger services using a combination of smartcards, biometrics and digital certificates. Adding biometrics to smartcards is becoming increasingly popular as authorities seek more secure methods of identifying passengers and airport staff.

* There is currently a smartcard and biometric project running at Amsterdam's Schipol Airport. The initiative was launched in 2001 and involves frequent flying European Union residents who voluntarily submit to a police background check. If given the all clear, travellers enrol their iris and the data is stored on a smartcard. The biometric allows enrolled passengers to fast track through immigration at Schipol, with additional benefits including reserved parking and business class check in.

* London City Airport announced late last year that they would be running a fingerprint recognition trial, in conjunction with a proximity card, with its 1500 employees. Should the initial trial prove to be successful, the airport may consider extending biometric identification to passengers. Besides the increased security aspects, passengers will be able to enjoy reduced travelling time.

For a technology that was first introduced on a commercial basis over 30 years ago when a machine that measured finger length was installed for a time-keeping application at Shearson Hamil on Wall Street, biometric devices have come a long way and will continue to contribute invaluably to security systems and solutions worldwide for a long time to come.

About NamITech

NamITech has more than 10 years experience in biometrics and has implemented many successful biometric projects, locally and internationally. The company is the local distributor of HandKey II, a hand geometry biometric device manufactured by Recognition Systems.

Clive Handley
Clive Handley

For more information contact Clive Handley, NamITech, 011 458 0081.




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