Advances in biometrics and more use of e-passports make a compelling case for automated borders. So why not let low-risk passengers process themselves, freeing border agencies to focus on those posing a greater risk?
"The right play off between border management and facilitation remains a difficult balancing act,” says Dan Ebbinghaus, VP Border Security, SITA. “We want borders to be as open as possible for legitimate visitors, but firmly closed to those deemed undesirable.
“We’re happy to welcome tourists and those coming on business, but equally aware of the need to deal effectively with security concerns. At the same time, as passenger numbers and political pressures keep growing, budgets remain under stress.”
No wonder keeping people moving through the airport and national borders has become such a daunting task. Existing systems frequently struggle to cope – while future increases threaten to stress already overloaded processes and systems to breaking point.
It’s not only an issue for border agencies but also for airports and airlines. As their own resources are increasingly stretched, they too feel the pressure to improve passenger services. It matters little to passengers if baggage delivery is the best in the world if they have to spend two hours in immigration getting through border control.
Automate the frontline
So, how to be smarter at the border? Poised to usher in a new era at border lines around the world, automated border control gates and kiosks are shining a light on the way forward.
The magic of automated border control gates and kiosks is their ability to automate the frontline, removing the need for a border guard to manually check the travel document and identity for each and every traveler. So says a new paper from SITA, ‘Smarter Borders: Using Automation to Increase Security and Efficiency’.
Qualified border agents can then be redeployed to focus their attention on potential high-risk travelers, improving security yet enhancing efficiency for the benefit of passengers.
Automated border control relies on a number of prerequisites. They include the use of e-passports and biometric verification, such as face, iris or fingerprint, combined with a risk assessment of the traveler.
Automated border crossings are already widely used in trusted, or registered, traveler programs. Passengers register, physically enroll their biometric data and voluntarily submit themselves to a background check in order to use the automated border control system. Often targeted at frequent travelers or migrant workers, these programs can be transnational.
Developments over the last few years have made the business case for border entry automation increasingly compelling. Technology has matured to minimize error rates in detection, standardization has helped countries adopt a common approach, the use of e-passports is widespread, and travelers are enthusiastic about using self-service technology.
“But perhaps most importantly, e-passports have reached critical mass, helped by adoption of the ICAO standard,” says Ebbinghaus. According to analyst firm IHS Technology, 113 million e-passports were in circulation in 2013, a figure due to rise to 175 million by 2019. Over 100 countries have implemented e-passports. That represented around 60% of all passports in circulation in 2012.
“There’s also the important massive advance made in biometric matching – particularly in face recognition,” he adds. Results from a recent trial of SITA e-gates, which use class-leading biometric technology, show that 92% of eligible travelers were processed successfully with no operator intervention. That includes both the document and biometric checks.
For those taking the automation route, the two main options to consider are e-gates and kiosks, though both can be used in different combinations, according to the SITA Paper.
E-gates have been widely adopted in Europe as a direct replacement for the manual border counter. Travelers queue up for the e-gate, then enter a secure and private enclosure with barriers either side of them.
Once the document and biometric checks are completed successfully, the front door opens to let the passenger through. Typically, one border guard supervises a bank of several e-gates and deals with those passengers that need further processing.
Kiosks are more appropriate where the goal is to automate most of the process but the traveler still has to speak to a border control officer for a final check. Kiosks can automate the travel document checks, identity verification and customs declaration as well as integrating with back-end systems that perform a risk assessment.
Once that’s done, a printed receipt shows the traveler’s details, including face image and a status indicator. In most implementations the traveler then takes the receipt to a border control officer stationed at the exit of the immigration hall who performs the final vetting. See also: ‘The kiosk rises’.
The ‘soft side’
It’s not just about technology choice. Softer factors also come into play – such as queue management, signage and passenger education – and they’re critical to the successful deployment of automated border control.
“Getting travelers to the right area and using the technology correctly requires planning and preparation,” concludes Ebbinghaus.
”But the benefits of getting it right can make a significant impact on the continuing battle to smooth the end-to-end journey for passengers while providing a secure environment for travel and for host countries.”
The magic of automated border control gates and kiosks is their ability to automate the frontline, removing the need for a border guard to manually check the travel document and identity for each and every traveler.
It’s not just about technology choice. Softer factors also come into play – such as queue management, signage and passenger education.