Biometrics-the new sentinel for airports

By : |November 20, 2003 0

By Jon Boyle

PARIS – The executive skips past the snaking airport check-in queue, waves a credit-card size pass at a monitor, puts a finger into a hi-tech reader and proceeds to the boarding zone thinking: “Some day, we’ll all fly like this.”

Science fiction? Not at all. “Biometrics”, the technology that uses fingerprints, the voice, face or eyes to identify an individual is set to revolutionise the way we travel and live.

French firm Sagem, Aeroports de Paris, Air France and police are already discussing ways to enable frequent flyers to breeze through check-in procedures with a biometric smart card.

“They are more likely to agree to give their fingerprints” in order to benefit from fast-track embarking, Sagem’s Jean-Charles Pignot told Reuters at an annual security exhibition outside Paris.
A pilot project at Paris’ main Charles de Gaulle airport seeks to ensure the person who checks in is the same one who actually boards the plane, placing a passenger’s fingerprints on the magnetic strip in the boarding pass.

The system is being installed in some U.S. airports, where security procedures are being overhauled after Islamic militants rammed hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon two years ago, killing almost 3,000 people.

Pignot said Sagem technology is already in use at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. New York police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security installed it after 9/11.

The company this month won a deal it touts as the biggest airport biometrics security contract in Europe, providing passes to 90,000 employees working at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports. The mooted frequent flyer scheme could be the next phase in a generalized embrace of the technology.


Biometrics look set to take off in the next few years as Europe and the United States introduce a new generation of smart visas and passports in an effort to stamp out forgeries that allow criminals and terrorists to cover their tracks.

At least one EU state is including encoded fingerprint data on visas issued in China and Ghana, a method that could allow developing countries to boost security relatively cheaply.

Western states favour documents with embedded chips containing fingerprints, the bearer’s photograph, iris or other data. That could add one to 10 euros to the cost of passports, depending on the system adopted and economies of scale, industry experts say.

Airline authorities want an international technological standard for biometrics, something that is nearly in place for fingerprints. But agreement over the newer facial and iris recognition technologies will take longer.

Nevertheless, with security the travel industry’s watchword like never before, biometrics has a bright future. The United States alone records 500 million cross-border journeys a year.

Biometrics also has wider applications, such as for driver’s licences and distributing social security and pension payments in a fraud-free way, say the technology’s champions.

With biometrics, they say, your fingertips could be transformed into a loss-proof car key, your voice could unlock the door to your home, and your eyes could gain access to sensitive data.

“I think in the next two to three years we will see a very sharp increase in the use of biometric systems in general,” said Bernard Chekroun, CEO of French biometric firm ISTEC.

He predicts exponential growth for a market he estimates is currently worth around $1 billion a year.

® Reuters

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