United States: Entry-exit system back in the news

Biometric ID viable at U.S. entry points: report (Washington Times)

Federal law has long called for all visitors to the U.S. to submit to biometric identification both coming and going, but the government has never lived up to that promise — and senators in their immigration bill this year even announced a retreat, weakening the law, saying the requirement is too expensive.

But a report released Tuesday by the Center for Immigration Studies says biometric identification can be implemented easily and at a fraction of the cost estimated by government officials.

See also: Who’s in my country? That’s a tough one.

US: Biometrics visitor exit tracking

Long-planned visa exit system inches forward (FCW)

The Department of Homeland Security will soon put the finishing touches on a plan for a biometric identification system intended to help track visa overstays.

Jim Crumpacker, director of DHS’ Departmental GAO-IG Liaison Office, told the Government Accountability Office that Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations and DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate will come up with goals aimed at creating and implementing a biometric air exit identification system for use at U.S. airports by Jan. 31, 2014.

Face recognition passport check at Oslo airport

New Passenger Record Set in Oslo Gardermon Airport (The Nordic Page)

The system was introduced initially as a trial with two machines that are placed on arrival for passengers coming from countries outside the Schengen area.

The technology is based on face recognition and has a two-stage operation. After passing the first gate, traveler’s face is scanned to compare with the picture on the passport. After the image match is completed, the next door is opened and the border control finishes. The process takes about 15 seconds.

Try it; you’ll like it.

US: Entry/exit dominating today’s biometrics news

An amendment to the immigration bill being discussed in the Senate Judiciary Committee has been all over the news this morning.

See:
Senators propose fingerprinting at airport security (Click Orlando), and
US senators approve immigration changes requiring fingerprint system at 30 airports (Truth Dive)

This Reuters piece is more detailed:
US panel votes to speed up airport fingerprinting of immigrants (Reuters)

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 for an amendment to a wide-ranging immigration bill that would require the installation of devices to check immigrants’ fingerprints at the 10 busiest U.S. airports within two years of enactment of the legislation.

Checks currently are made at airports for foreigners arriving and re-entering the country but not when they leave. “It’s just a matter of having records we can keep so we know where we’re going,” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah told reporters of his successful amendment.

The committee’s work commands worldwide attention because it’s personal to many people because of their own travel habits, aspirations for immigration or education, or the living situation of friends or loved-ones.

It is also of worldwide importance because the United States will have a large role to play in any eventual interoperable international system accounting for international travel.

The amendment adopted by the committee would, in the event of the bill’s passage, institute a fingerprint-based entry/exit system starting with the ten busiest U.S. airports over two years.

The best framing I have read of the lack of-, case for-, and challenges associated with a decent entry/exit system is David Grant’s Immigration reform: What to do about those who arrive legally but never leave?

And in March, we wrote:

[… R]elevant to integrating the entry and exit points is the percentage of international travelers who enter a country through one international travel node and depart the country from another.

The more nodes, the more travelers, the more complex the travel patterns of international visitors, all of these things place additional pressures on any sort of entry/exit system and these complexities don’t necessarily increase as a linear function.

Of course all of this has bearing on the United States which has every challenge there is. It’s not surprising that, biometrics or no biometrics, the US lacks a comprehensive integrated entry/exit system. A couple of good pilot projects might go a long way towards getting an idea of the exact scope of some of the challenges, though. [emph. added]

With that in mind, does the committee’s amendment fit in with the idea of a “good pilot” project? I think so. Despite reluctance to call anything happening in the ten busiest airports in the country a “pilot project,” so as not to trivialize the challenges involved, the scope of a truly comprehensive entry/exit system accounting for all air, sea and land transport is so vast that it does make “pilot project” seem appropriate here.

But in order for this avenue to a pilot actually to lead there, even in two years, the whole immigration bill currently being fashioned in the Judiciary Committee must pass the full U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Even if the broader immigration overhaul fails to attract majority legislative support, the 13-5 committee vote may bode well for the pilot on a stand-alone basis. You have to start somewhere.

A simple and powerful facial recognition application

In many ways, the deployment model described in the linked article is the perfect facial recognition app.

It’s minimalist, requiring no large database of potentially sensitive information. If, in the case of the most minimal possible system, the database just contains faces it’s debatable whether or not the face alone is personally identifiable information (PII) at all which ought to alleviate the concerns of even the most strident privacy advocates. The database can be wiped clean altogether every few hours.

Since matching algorithm developers tend to charge by the size of the searchable database, the small database size should keep the system affordable.

The environment in which the enrollment image is created can be tightly controlled.

The probe image is collected on the same day as the database image, so no one is likely to age by several years, have plastic surgery or grow a beard in the time between photos.

The environment where the probe image is created can also be tightly controlled.

The people to be identified are cooperative users of the system, so it’s more like an access control deployment and less like surveillance.

Databases like these are likely to remain very small making error rates manageable by an attendant human being.

See also: One-Time-Only ID Technologies

Automated face recognition speeds up plane boarding (The Engineer)

In use, passengers reaching the ‘self-boarding’ gate pass through an automatic electronic barrier which takes an infrared scan of their face.

This information is checked against the biometric data that was taken at the check-in stage.

When the two sets of data scans are successfully matched, the barrier opens and the passenger can pass through and board their flight.

TSA wants a slick new ID & document management system

TSA To Purchase Credential Authentication Technology In 2014 (HS Today)

A CAT system must verify the identity of air passengers and confirm they are able to travel beyond the security checkpoint for boarding their planes, TSA said in an announcement Monday. It must display authentication credentials to a transportation security officer (TSO) or other qualified operator and ensure proper ticketing of the passenger, instructing the system operator as to what action to take if the passenger is not yet cleared.

The CAT system also must integrate a credentials scanner, technology to authenticate credentials, a graphic user interface (GUI) and an application programming interface (API). Under a separate contract, TSA already has produced the API, which provides an interface with its Security Technology Integrated Program (STIP) for the transfer of passenger data.

Pretty cool. This sounds a lot like the IDTrac product we developed several years back, only we used IDTrac to keep track of bank checks instead of boarding passes. The facial recognition part of what it does is pretty elegant if I do say so myself.

Biometric passenger service, CLEAR, reaches milestone

CLEAR Speeds Millionth Traveler Through Airport Security (Press release via PR Web)

Certified by the Department of Homeland Security as Qualified Anti-Terrorism Technology, CLEAR transforms the travel experience by allowing members to use their biometrics (fingerprint or iris) to speed through security at major US airports.

“We estimate that CLEAR members have saved over 30 million minutes that would have been spent waiting in line at airport security,” said Allison Romano, Director of Member Services. “The predictability of CLEAR is crucial for our members. Since 42% of members travel at least once per month, 15% travel once per week, and 50% travel during peak hours, CLEAR has a significant impact on their travel experience. That means more time living and less time waiting.”

Visit CLEAR here.

Who’s in my country? That’s a tough one.

Philippines will deploy biometrics for documenting the arrival and departure of international travellers (FutureGov Asia)

BI Commissioner Ricardo David Jr said the programme will enhance the country’s border security and boost the agency’s capability to thwart the entry of foreign terrorists and other illegal aliens.

The new scheme involves the use of an ink-less device and digital camera in capturing the fingerprints and photographs of the foreign visitors.

Doing something like this is easier for some countries than others. The Philippines has some advantages and challenges. Advantages include the lack of land borders with other countries. Since it’s an archipelago, they can be pretty sure that no one is walking or driving there, so except for clandestine boat or plane landings, covering the sea- and airports takes care of it. But there are a surprising (to me) number of those, so the integration challenges are real.

Also relevant to integrating the entry and exit points is the percentage of international travelers who enter a country through one international travel node and depart the country from another.

The more nodes, the more travelers, the more complex the travel patterns of international visitors, all of these things place additional pressures on any sort of entry/exit system and these complexities don’t necessarily increase as a linear function.

Of course all of this has bearing on the United States which has every challenge there is. It’s not surprising that, biometrics or no biometrics, the US lacks a comprehensive integrated entry/exit system. A couple of good pilot projects might go a long way towards getting an idea of the exact scope of some of the challenges, though.

USA Today Editorial duels Op-Ed on biometric exit monitoring system

Border security not just about walls: Our viewUSA Today Editorial Board

A full biometric system plus immigration agents plus court personnel would cost tens of billions that the government doesn’t have. But if this year’s immigration reform is to prove more effective and durable than those of the past, this would be a good time to face up to the costs.

We can identify those who overstay on visasDavid Heyman, assistant secretary for policy at the Homeland Security Department

Ultimately, biometric exit is not the only exit system that exists. Rather than wait for a time when there is enough funding or capability, we have built and are improving a system that is effective today.

New China travel policy includes collecting biometrics of foreign travelers

China Exit-Entry law up (Tempo – Philippines)

Key provisions of the law include requiring residence permits for foreigners residing in China, issuing a “catalog” for foreign workers, putting a cap on the extension of visas, creation of national database for exit and entry information, collection of biometric data of foreigners, and the introduction of “Green Cards.”

Biometrics for convenience and security

Air travellers frustrated by security checks: IATA study (The Hindu)

The Survey, which included passengers from 114 countries who had travelled by air in the last 12 months, was released late Thursday in Geneva. The participating countries include India, China, US, Canada, UAE, Ukraine, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq.

Among the respondents of the survey, 77 per cent were comfortable to use biometric identification for more convenient airport transit and 71 per cent would prefer to use a self-boarding device at the gate, such as a mobile phone.

An even greater majority (86 per cent) were prepared to provide the airline their passport details in advance to allow a smoother journey. While only a quarter of the respondents have ever used an automated immigration border gate on arrival at an airport using their ePassport or ID card, as high as 91 per cent said they would be interested in such a service to allow a faster arrival process.

There is little to no privacy in international travel. Many people just want to be able to complete the ID processes relied upon by security professionals with a little less hassle.

UPDATED: Ukraine, Biometric Passports and the Politics of ID

Yanukovych: Ukraine to fulfill obligations on introduction of biometric passports (Kyiv Post)

Ukraine has had a hard time with implementing a biometric passport.

First, there are real and compelling reasons for adopting a new document standard for passports that uses a chip to hold information (including biometric information). Defense against document fraud, human trafficking and other types of organized crime spring immediately to mind.

Then there is the pressure from Europe to modernize ID documents. Because of Europe’s huge market, cultural importance and proximity to many non-EU countries, there is a lot of international travel to and from the EU. At the same time, the relative wealth of the EU countries compared to the countries with which they share land borders creates incentives for extra-legal behavior (immigration, smuggling, organized crime, etc.) that might be lowered by adopting more rigorous ID management practices.

The EU is driving its end of the bargain by harmonizing travel and ID practices within the EU (plus a few other countries; see Schengen Area) and offering visa-free travel to citizens of countries that make it easier to administer cross-border traffic through better document technology and law enforcement cooperation.

So what’s not to like?

ID documents are, of course, extremely political. They are also a source of revenue to the authorities that issue them and the companies that supply the materials, services, or the manufacturing related to them.

For the nation of Ukraine and Ukrainians who are frequent international travelers successful passport modernization would be a good deal with the state collecting fees that frequent travelers can afford to pay and who are, in turn, compensated with smoother border crossings. Ukrainians who don’t, won’t or can’t travel would be left alone.

So what’s not to like?

Ordinary Ukrainians weren’t sure about the second part and the international travelers weren’t sure about the first part.

A year ago, the deliberations on ID document modernization in Ukraine took place under a cloud of suspicion that the new document wouldn’t actually move the country to visa free travel to Europe, would cost a lot, and since Ukrainians already carry domestic passports, foreign passports, social identity cards, identity cards for insured people, pension certificates, certificates of persons with disabilities, and driving licenses, many (enough, apparently) suspected that the true impetus behind the effort was just another opportunity to collect fees and/or throw a new contract to a connected firm and they worried that the effort might not be limited to international travel documents.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych vetoed the effort of last year and the initiative seems to have been resurrected as something resembling the more optimal approach described in theory above.

It’s not a done deal yet but it looks like Ukraine is making progress.

NOTE: This post has been modified slightly from the original version to add clarity.

UPDATE:
Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy is the first deputy prime minister of Ukraine. Perhaps more relevant to our discussion here, he also used to run the State Customs Service.

His piece today in the Kyiv Post is much lengthier than other treatments of Ukraine’s regional integration efforts which tend to be very narrowly focused.

In it, he discusses in more detail many of the topics we touched on above, including:

  • Visa free regime with the EU; 
  • Biometric passports;
  • Other identity documents;
  • Human trafficking;
  • and the flip-side of organized crime, corruption.

Israel: Interior ministry wants tourists’ biometrics

Israel to create tourist biometric database? (Ynetnews) According to Interior Ministry proposal, visitors refusing to provide fingerprints will be banned entry.

Pretty soon everyone will be doing this; Ghana already does something similar at the Accra airport. I can’t see why Israel would issue tourists an ID card though . On the one hand, isn’t that what a passport is for? On the other, if they’re collecting biometrics why not use them?

UAE: Travel without boarding pass

Dubai: Biometric self-boarding, self bag drops and ‘bagtrac’ smartphone applications — a host of new technologies will change the face of air travel in the region. (Gulf News)

“Soon you won’t need your boarding pass,” said Andre Oeyen, Director of Biometric Business Development, Government and Security Solutions at SITA, a global air transport communications and information technology major.

Speaking to XPRESS on the sidelines of the ICT Aviation Forum in Dubai on Tuesday, he said: “We are in talks with airlines and airports in the region to launch biometric self-boarding in the first half of 2013.”

However, he did not specify the names of the airlines or airports. He said biometrics is already being used for border management and immigration in Dubai, and if extended to boarding, it will be the next dimension.

Faster please.

You say you want a revolution?

Australia: Customs eyes tech future beyond SmartGate (IT News)

The service issued a request for information (RFI) seeking solutions that “do not rely [on] simply implementing more of the current technology and associated traveller processing infrastructure”

Broad options sought by the RFI cover solutions to automate traveller border processing, verify biometric identity, supply traveller information, reduce queues, perform behavioural assessments, and offer “non-intrusive traveller concealment detection”.

Argentina streamlines cross-border travel with biometrics

Argentina strengthens migratory control (InfoSurHoy)

When a passenger places his or her finger on the fingerprint reader at the airport, the system instantaneously sends a message to the National Registry of Persons (RENAPER), the agency responsible for protecting the individual identity rights of Argentine residents.

“If the person who placed their finger on the reader does not match the individual shown in the documents, the system blocks the process and alerts the inspector,” Duval said. “We’ve already had some cases like this.”

When processing foreigners, the system compares the data with a record of their previous entries and departures in Argentina.

Canada and the US to require better ID from border crossers

Border law will demand travel docs from Canadians: Documents (Embassy)

Citizenship and Immigration Canada plans to introduce new legal rules that would force Canadians and Americans to present authorized travel documents such as passports when entering Canada, according to departmental notes.

Government documents obtained by Embassy under access to information legislation show the move, part of the perimeter security plan between Canada and the United States, will bring Canadian and American law closer.

Under the US Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, Canadians and others have had to pack official travel documents like passports since 2007 when they fly to the US, and since 2009 when driving or sailing there.

Canada, US Work Well Together on Border Issues

Canada-U.S. deal aims to smooth flow of refugees (Vancouver Sun)

the United States plan to join forces in order to better deal with “irregular flows” of refugees that turn up in North America or migrate within the continent, newly declassified documents show.

By 2014, the two countries will also begin routinely sharing biometric information about travellers, such as fingerprints.

And Canada is laying the groundwork for legislative and regulatory changes that will require all travellers – including Canadian and U.S. citizens – to present a secure document such as a passport or enhanced driver’s licence when entering Canada. Such a document is already required to enter the U.S.

A border isn’t really a big deal if those on both sides of it have the same rules about who can go in and out of the country.

The thing is, while sharing the world’s longest international border and the world’s largest trading relationship [PDF], Canada and the United States haven’t harmonized their immigration and visa rules — and they don’t wish to.

That’s all well within the scope of each sovereign country’s citizens to determine but it also implies that a lot of effort is required of both sides to make sure things operate smoothly. Biometric ID management technology can help.