Our connected world needs confident security systems
- By Peter Smallridge
- Mar 01, 2016
Our world is connected through travel
now more than ever before. Globalization
has made way for a constant
coming and going, making border security
more necessary. With that can
come many high-level threats such as transnational
crime, human trafficking and terrorism.
Investing in biometric security is no longer a luxury
for many international borders, it is now a necessity.
The importance of knowing who is coming and
going is key to an effective border security program.
That is why, in the United States, we see Customs and
Border Protection (CBP) photographing travelers entering
Authenticating identity is one of the main components
of border security. As technology advances, we
have the ability to deploy technology that can quickly
and accurately validate a person’s assertion of their
identity. Implementing multi-layer authentication solutions
makes security efforts more effective and dynamic.
Biometric solutions play a crucial role as border security
evolves to meet the demands of the 21st century.
Biometric technology allows for a higher standard of
authentication, and we see multi-modalities being implemented
by the Department of Homeland Security.
The Role of Biometrics in Border Security
One of the fascinating things about biometrics is that
each biometric modality has its own unique advantages.
It’s not just a technical evaluation based on accuracy
that is the deciding factor, but it is also about
where biometrics are to be used and the people who
will use them. Put more scientifically, the suitability
of any biometric solution depends on accuracy, environment,
usability, invasiveness and culture, as well
as cost, of course. The result is a unique profile like a
biometric image itself.
“The need for an effective and robust security program
is a necessity for many international borders.
Marrying multiple tools and technologies together is
an efficient way for border agents to strengthen their
existing programs and ensure safe borders are maintained,”
said Ella Schiralli, manager, Federal Government
Markets with 3M. “Biometric technology is absolutely
worth considering implementing as part of a
short and long-term investment.”
ePassports are one of the important innovations in
border security, becoming prominent in the early
2000s. Most countries are now issuing ePassports, a
passport with an electronic, RFID chip that stores, at
a minimum, the same data that is found in the physical
data page of the passport. This includes a digital
photo of the passport holder. This facial image stored
in data group two of the ePassport is readily accessible
to anybody who can open the chip using basic
access control. For this, all that is needed is a key,
which can be calculated from the machine readable
zone (MRZ) of an ePassport.
Using these specific readers and facial recognition
technology, CBP agents are quickly and easily able to
match the individual in front of them with the valuable
information on the eChip.
There are numerous security benefits to ePassports,
like providing protection against identity theft,
increasing the level of identity authentication of the
traveler and making it harder to counterfeit passports.
Additionally, these benefits reach further than just
border control efforts. For example, commercial organizations
who want to reduce fraud, banks, casinos,
car rental companies, can all access the eChip on an
ePassport and view an image of the face of the person
to whom the document was issued, ensuring a higher
level of identity authentication.
Like all biometric modalities, facial recognition has
its own set of unique advantages. It is one that we humans
learn to use from an early age and is indispensable
in social interaction. Despite its ubiquitous use,
perhaps surprisingly it is one of the biometric modalities
that people find most intrusive. Unlike an image
of fingerprints or iris, a person is recognized immediately
by their face.
This technology, surprisingly, is not as costly as
one may guess. In border security trials, it was found
that even a simple commercial off-the-shelf webcam,
combined with an ePassport reader, delivers excellent
results. This is not to say that it works well in all environments.
Good matching always depends on good
images. Currently, facial recognition software cannot
detect the contours of the face when the face is covered
by a shadow. Additional lighting may help, but
can be often avoided by carefully choosing where to
locate the camera.
The varying height of the subject can also be a factor,
since the facial image will be stretched somewhat
if the pitch of the camera is too great. However, in
use cases where there is an agent or officer operating
the equipment, facial recognition is an invaluable tool
that gives the agent additional objective data to help
make their decision.
Facial recognition has come to play a large role in
border security, and has evolved to account for human
error. Once, image authenticity was left to the human
eye. But how observant are humans at making this
comparison? Scientific studies reveal that even a border
officer struggles to achieve 80 percent accuracy. Facial
recognition software, which pays less attention to hairstyles
and good looks and more to the geometry of the
facial features, achieves more than 90 percent accuracy,
and with the resources being put into research and development,
it is improving quickly.
How Facial Recognition Technology is Evolving
Speaking of research and development, there are a
variety of advancements to note as facial recognition
becomes more prominent. Old technology required
still images to recognize faces, and many systems still
use this technology. This method is tedious and timeconsuming.
Looking for ways to improve, developers
created technology to use video stream. The system
relied on still images, however integrating a video
component allowed systems to capture thousands of
still images at once, leading to a more robust and accurate
Now, technology is advancing and using video
stream as true video. This will make a world of difference
for border control agents. Still images require
compatible scenarios, like angles, lighting and
expression, in order to make a match. This can make
obtaining a match difficult. With an original photo
being taken at one place at a time, the image taken
to match is likely occurring in a different place, at a
Another evolving component of facial recognition
is the ability to recognize faces in an uncontrolled environment.
Currently photos are taken in a controlled
environment with a uniform setup, requiring specific
lighting and angles. The images captured look like
that of an ID card. Also, subjects are more likely to
wear makeup and dress up when they are expecting
to have their photo taken for something lasting like
an ID card.
However, at a point of entry, the environment is
not controlled. There is different lighting, different
angles, and these differences can make a match more
difficult. In the last few years, large improvements in
facial matching algorithms have been made to address
these issues. Facial recognition is being setup
to better handle uncontrolled environments, like
ports of entry, to better replicate and reflect actual
situations and environments.
Combining true video with measures that account
for uncontrolled environments improves speed and
accuracy, making facial recognition more dynamic
and powerful, and a key security component in border
While biometric technology evolves
and solutions for iris and facial scanning
become more accessible, there
will always be space and need for fingerprinting.
You don’t leave your face
behind, you leave your fingerprints.
Fingerprint databases are robust with
known and suspected criminals and
terrorists. Using fingerprint technology
for border security, and combining
it with additional biometric modalities,
strengthens intelligence and offers
higher levels of safety.
How Fingerprinting Technology
Computer-powered fingerprint technology
has been around since the early
1980s. Over the years, the technology
has evolved and become more readily
available. We see fingerprint technology
integrated into the mainstream, and
more widely accepted by the public,
through mediums like mobile phones
and ATMs. As the technology continues
to evolve, the next step in fingerprinting
will be touchless.
With an increased number of companies
making touchless fingerprint
readers, use of the technology is likely
to become readily available when needing
to identify large numbers of people,
such as at an airport or cruise docking
station. 3M is one of many companies
who have supported the development
of this technology, as these type of
readers produce sharper images than
when using a fingerprinting surface.
In addition, this touchless technology
offers exceptional speed and is a great
Authentication is the first step to a
compelling border security program.
Implementing biometric technology
into border management increases authentication
accuracy. It also assists
CBP agents to make better decisions
when it comes to homeland security.
“Countries like China, South Korea
and India have already established the
precedence of using biometric technology
regularly when it comes to border
management,” Schiralli said. “Because
biometric technology is an efficient way
to confirm a person’s identity and can
greatly strengthen security measures, 3M
Border Management Systems continue
to make a profound impact worldwide.”
While biometrics are only one part of
an overall security program, they have
become an indispensable tool in combatting
border issues. Marrying biometric
modalities together allows CBP, and
government agencies across the world,
to create more efficient, effective and secure
border control programs. Whether
coming or going, expect biometrics to
continue to advance and play a role in
port of entry security procedures.
This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Security Today.