Airline passengers are ready and waiting for biometrics in the belief that it will smooth their passage through airports, but an Internet watchdog warns that there are risks to be taken into account.

Facing up to the future with biometrics

Facing up to the future with biometrics
IT provider SITA has urged airlines and airports to reach a global consensus on how to securely resolve passenger identity issues as an integral part of the next generation of self-service systems. 

“Passengers are ready and want to use biometrics. The easiest way for airlines and airports to make this happen is to use technology that integrates easily with their existing infrastructure – kiosks, bag drop, automated boarding gates,” said Sean Farrell, director, strategy & innovation, SITA.

Farrell said moving to single token identity management where passengers could simply use their biometric, such as their face, at every checkpoint on their journey would speed passengers securely through the airport.

SITA said all industry stakeholders had a role to play to harness technologies that could make the processes “better, faster and more secure”. 

“The air transport industry must collaborate across all stakeholders and across the globe with governments to ensure scalability and interoperability across borders,” SITA added.

According to Biometrics for Better Travel: An ID Management Revolution, a report published by SITA, the use of biometrics to check a passenger’s identity would power faster and more secure self-service processes at airports as passenger numbers are set to almost double to 7.8 billion by 2036.

SITA’s report explores innovative ID management programmes that are transforming the travel experience. In the future, these will be more commonplace worldwide as 63% of airports and 43% of airlines plan to invest in biometric ID management solutions in the next three years.

Farrell added, “Across the world, airlines are required to check that passengers are who they say they are and that they have the right travel documents. This is a fundamental element of securing the travel process, which cannot be eliminated. 

“Efficient identity management is essential for better security while at the same time improving the passenger experience. Biometrics is the technology that can deliver this.”

Beware of face snatchers
Internet security specialist Norton says facial recognition software is data. As such, it can be collected and stored, often without the permission of the person in question. 
Once the information is collected and stored, it’s open to being hacked. And as facial recognition technology spreads, a person’s biometrics are going to be in the hands of more people.

Norton said there are also issues of ownership involved. Most people don’t know that when they sign up for social media platforms like Facebook, there’s some claim of ownership on the data given to Facebook. 

When it comes to pictures, once facial recognition software really starts breaking out and there are lots of companies collecting and collating this data, a person might not even have to upload their images to the Internet to become compromised. “Pictures of you on other people’s accounts or even in newspapers can be aggregated and sold to the highest bidder,” Norton said.

Amadeus and Lufthansa launch biometric boarding at LAX
By Mitra Sorrells

Amadeus has developed facial-recognition technology in partnership with Lufthansa that is now being used for boarding at Los Angeles International Airport.

Lufthansa reported that during an initial trial, it was able to board 350 passengers onto an A380 plane in about 20 minutes.

The system uses cameras that capture a photo of the passenger’s face as he or she approaches the gate. The image is instantly and securely sent to the US Customs and Border Protection database for real-time matching and verification. 

Once the match is made, the system counts the passenger as “boarded” – without the need to show a boarding pass or passport.

“The increasing need... to offer faster and more convenient processes for guests to move through the airport creates a unique opportunity for the use of biometrics,” said Bjoern Becker, Lufthansa’s senior director of product management for ground and digital services. 

How a computer interprets your face 
Human faces have certain qualities that are unconsciously recognisable to the human eye, such as the spacing of eyes on a face, the position and width of a nose, and the shape of a hairline and chin. A computer, however, can do this with reasonable efficiency because when you put all of these metrics together, you get a mathematical formula for what someone looks like.

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