Crossing Borders with Biometrics and RFID

Crossing Borders with Biometrics and RFID

New airports boast the latest security technologies, yet most personal identity documents and issuance procedures are outdated. In many countries, passport and national ID issuance is still done manually. Governments are looking into electronic IDs to replace paper documents, while international standards mark this as a major application for biometrics and RFID technologies.

The management of national ID production is currently cumbersome and costly. It is not uncommon for employees of passport or license agencies to spend their days doing manual labor — scanning documents, sending forms to people who have submitted substandard photos and so on. "It is a difficult and time-consuming process for individuals to apply for IDs, and agencies to produce them," said Magnus Svenningson, MD of Speed Identity.

There is much room for error and identity fraud. "Approximately 10 percent of technologies and procedures are substandard applications, and though it's reasonable to assume use of current technology, budget restraints on behalf of government agencies involved in issuing national IDs is holding back widespread deployment," Svenningson said.

Demand for electronic IDs (e-ID) is just beginning. In Europe, a third of the countries have rolled out related projects, with more coming on board. "This means that a little over 50 percent of the European population is taking on e-ID schemes," said Yiru Zhong, Market Analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

International Regulations
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is active in setting global standards for e-passports. Among these standards include the Basic Access Control (BAC) and the Extended Access Control (EAC) initiatives. These will help countries migrate from traditional paper-based travel documents to e-IDs.

BAC addresses first-generation electronic passports (e-passports), using contactless smart cards containing a simple biometric — typically a digitized photo of an individual — along with the digital identity information of an individual duplicated on the paper document, said experts from Temporal Secure Digital Identity in a prepared statement.

EAC addresses second-generation e-passports, allowing governments to leverage a stronger biometric identifier that makes impersonation of the legitimate document holder more difficult. The use of biometrics — typically a digital fingerprint or iris scan — establishes a stronger tie between the individual and the travel document. EAC is currently optional and not fully specified.

The ICAO has also issued standards for RFID use in passports, while the ISO issued standards for facial recognition biometrics used in ID documents. "As a biometric solution, facial recognition is not as reliable for personal identification, because it varies with lighting, color, temperature, aging, and so on," said Anderson Lin, Project Manager of Security for NEC.

Additionally, requirements are difficult to meet because operators must undergo at least two to three years of training from each solution vendor, Lin said. Countries tend to have very high false acceptance and false rejection rates if they do not follow these standards.

Higher accuracy alternatives, such as fingerprint or iris scans, have been mandated. However, issues with privacy still need to be overcome.

Efforts to ensure the quality of documents can be seen by manufacturers obtaining certification. The German Federal Office of Information Security, for example, issues security certifications for factories to ensure RFID production environments and manufacturing processes are up to par, said Martin Kuschewski, Head of e-ID Business Unit at Smartrac Technology Group. "We were among the first to obtain the highest evaluation assurance level for manufacturing RFID-based identity documents."

Decision Makers
A range of government departments and agencies are involved in the rollout of a national identity scheme. This typically includes the national registry, the department of home affairs, the electoral judiciary and the national statistics office, said John Kendall, National Security Program Director for APAC, Unisys. For e-passports, the authority for immigration and citizenship is involved.

The ministry of the interior is also responsible for issuing e-IDs. It usually establishes the requirements and specifications of such projects. However, due to the sensitive nature of these documents, there is also significant collaboration with national IT infrastructure networks, Zhong said. "Tenders are streamlined through public announcements found on national government websites."

Other stakeholders involved include the foreign affairs ministry. Communication between the ministry of the interior — which handles immigration — and foreign affairs has historically been a market barrier. "Foreign affairs lean towards traditional paper methods of issuing passports, whereas immigration is pushing for the uptake of biometrics for better protection," Lin said.

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