Securely yours

The global effort to improve aviation security is continuing apace. The adoption of electronic identification techniques, including biometrics, aims to make airports quicker to pass through and more secure.

  • E-Mail
By  Barbara Cockburn Published  August 28, 2006

|~||~||~|Security, always a top priority for airlines and airports, is now at an all time high as the world continues to witness turmoil and unrest. The mass movement of people, facilitated by low cost air travel, globalisation and more open borders, also reinforces the question of whether or not we can trust people to be who they say they are. Governments around the world are, therefore, gearing up to improve the monitoring of the people moving through their borders. In the United Arab Emirates, Dubai’s Naturalisation and Residency Department (DNRD) together with the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), has launched the pioneering E-Gate project. The system makes for a speedy entry and exit for passengers through the electronically controlled gates of immigration at Dubai International Airport. E-Gate is a ‘smart card’ that helps control security. Currently only open to Dubai residents and nationals, it will be rolled out to foreign travellers to expand the use of E-Gate technology, and will ensure that passengers do not face lengthy queues at the immigration counters in the airport to get their passports stamped with entry or exit stamps. Dubai is the first in the region to install such an advanced passenger clearing system that accelerates the movement of traffic through electronic screening of passengers’ data with the smart card. The electronically operated gates are designed for quick clearance through smart card technology and operate alongside conventional gates, giving passengers both options. Detailed instructions are given to passengers using the E-Gate at each step and DNRD has ensured the system is both user-friendly and efficient. The E-Gate is being developed to suit different entry and exit points where the E-Gate machines will be installed. “Once the project is implemented at all the exit and entry points, holders of the E-Gate card issued by the DNRD will be able to use the same card at any exit or entry point,” he says. “E-Gate cards will be phased in and are used for issuing residencies to those coming in on parents visas. There are plans to extend this to include all expatriates and nationals.” Dubai International Airport is undergoing huge expansion worth US $4.1 billion. It will have self check-in counters for passengers of national airline, Emirates, and the use of the E-Gate card for quicker immigration and passport control process. It also has clear regulations for example, that passengers should check-in at least three hours prior to the given time for departure to allow for quick traffic handling. E-Gate passport control counters amount to four at arrivals and two for departures. The E-Gate project is improving already tight security controls, according to the Minister of Interior, Lieutenant-General Shaikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who directed that E-Gate be rolled out nationwide following the success of the project in Dubai. Brigadier Saeed Mattar bin Bleilah, DNRD director, says that the initiative helped in curbing crowds witnessed at various entry and exit points of the airport, particularly during the summer season when most expats leave on vacation for their home countries. Biometrics has been around for some time, but is now being widely used as way to identify people and ensure people are who they say they are. The biometric system requires a person to register with the system, after which certain physical characteristics are captured and processed by a numerical algorithm, then entered into a database. When this information is processed, it will effectively remove the need for a two dimensional photograph. The current booklet-format passport will be phased out when a citizen’s passport expires. It will be renewed with a biometric one, which will have a system based on iris recognition technology and is aimed at increasing security and speeding up immigration control procedures. Biometrics, however, cannot solve all the problems. How are terrorists, for example, to be spotted? John Beynon, director of physical security at Scotland-based terrorism consultancy, Secure Risks, says that airports need to have mature staff in place who can spot likely suspicious behaviour of a terrorist. In Turkey, he says, “customs officers used to put their hands on the heart of a suspect and if their heart was racing they were deemed likely to be a terrorist or international criminal.” Perhaps not the most precise of techniques, but these days technology has become highly sophisticated. Secure Risks works with airports to look at how its security system is working and how best to improve the processes using the consultant’s knowledge and expertise. He says that the company looks at physical security and offers appropriate advice. Daon makes biometric solutions for when people have multiple identities within their lifecycle, for example, getting married. Daon’s chief operations officer, Tony Murphy, says: “Security is a global issue and airports have three main challenges. It’s about borders, customers and personnel entitlement rights within the airport grounds — and ensuring consistent security identification across all the different entities and business processes. A biometric pass will ensure people in the airport are where they are supposed to be.” Murphy says that the company is deploying its technology in the Middle East and it recently won a contract to provide the state of Qatar with biometric software to support the Qatar National Identification Project. The “smartcard” will be issued to all Qatari citizens and residents and will become the standard identification card for the purposes of interaction with all ministries within the Government of Qatar. The project includes the use of finger, face and iris biometrics to provide fast and reliable verification of an individual’s identity. Taking security a step further, E-Gate has developed integrated technology so that all airports in the UAE are able to link up their immigration information. “It’s a consistent treatment of identification across the business process,” says Murphy. “In Dubai, these systems are being integrated with the legacy systems and this means that there is no need for border checks from one emirate to another.” He cites another example of states working together, namely the 1985 Schengen Agreement among European states which allows for common immigration policies, including a visa and a border system. All European Union members, excluding Ireland and the UK, have signed the agreement although not all have implemented it so far. Border posts and checks have been removed between Shengen countries and a common Shengen visa has been put in place. The Shengen Agreement includes consent to share information about people, so a person cannot disappear by moving around from one country to another. In the past, a criminal would have been able to escape conviction if they crossed the border. With biometric technology, the potential is huge. Murphy says: “Having a biometric passport means the holder is a “trusted traveller” which means they can automatically move through immigration. However, in order for the benefits of biometrics to truly be realised by airports, countries have to start rolling them out to their citizens. Press and public affairs officer at the British Embassy in Dubai, Vicky Lee-Gorton, explains that the UK is amongst the first group of embassies to issue biometric passports. “We are phasing out non-biometric passports among Britons” she says. “Any passport we issue now is a biometric one because there’s a global effort to clamp down on terrorists and criminals operating internationally. It will make it more difficult to travel on counterfeit passports and assume another identity. The process will make it impossible to forge biometric data.” Here at home, an innovative approach is being taken to the challenge of how to increase the adoption of biometric technology. Datel, MashreqBank, MasterCard International and Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department have launched an E-Gate credit card. The new Mashreqbank UAE Gate Prepaid MasterCard credit card has E-Gate functions built into it. Security-checked cardholders have the benefit of avoiding queues and being able to quickly pass through passport control at airports in the UAE by tapping the card at the electronic E-Gate terminal. Datel powers the E-Gate system that allow the speedy processing of passenger entry and exit at all UAE airports. Initially, the Mashreqbank UAE Gate Prepaid MasterCard can be used for immigration clearance at E-Gates in Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports. But there are plans to enable acceptance at E-Gates at other UAE airports in the future, officials have confirmed. Datel worked with the Ministry of Interior and Dubai Naturalisation & Residency Department (DNRD) to develop this multi-purpose card. The concerned authorities are also in talks with other airports to offer a similar kind of E-Gate service. “We have already signed agreements with Heathrow and Hong Kong airports and are in talks with a couple in the Middle East, another in Europe and one in the Indian sub-continent,” said Khalid Lootah, head of IT department at DNRD. Vicky Lee-Gorton, press officer at the British Embassy is confident that “the first generation” biometric passport technology is hard to tamper with. The technology sounds impressive but just how foolproof is it. Another question is how many airports will have the technology for scanning biometric information in place Most fraudsters are on top of the latest technology and criminal intelligence authorities are constantly working to second-guess them. The success of biometric passports will only be known once their deployment becomes widespread.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code