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Biometrics 2010: The Caribbean leads the way in multi-country biometric border controls

According to Colin McGeachey, a biometrics specialist with 3M Canada, the Caricom cluster of countries started pooling their border control resources back in 1972, and today the Caricom group has 15 member countries with around 16 million people flying through a total of 18 airports throughout the region each year.

Speaking at the Biometrics 2010 event in London yesterday, McGeachey said that, since 2007, members of the Caricom group of countries now have a biometrics-enabled identity card, which members can use when they travel in or out of their home country.

"So far we have 10 countries [fully] on board the programme, which uses fingerprints and facial biometrics to secure the gates", he said, adding that the optics in the gate assembly are diverse, meaning that the system cannot easily be tampered with.

According to Markus Nuppeney of the German Federal Office for Information Security, meanwhile, biometrics has also been in active use at Frankfurt airport to great effect, he said.

"Our facial biometrics scheme started in November 2005 and in November 2007 we added fingerprints to the mix. Today, the EasyPass programme is operational across the entire Frankfurt airport operation", he explained.

The technology supports e-passports from 62 countries and, says Nuppeney, was semi-automated in August of 2009, at which stage air passengers at the airport could pass through the border control system without human intervention.

Since April of this year, he told his audience, the system has been enhanced with a height adjustment system that modifies the gate biometric reading capabilities to support travellers with significantly different heights.

But it's not all wine and roses with biometric border gates, he went on to say, as the Frankfurt airport system still suffers from 55% rejection rates.

Nuppeney explained that 28% of this percentile is down to users' e-passports not being read, with a further 20% having no e-passport, being underage or having a passport from outside of the EU area.

Just 7%, he went on to say, experienced a gate fail because their e-passport 'read' did not complete in the required time, whilst of the 45% whose reader session worked, around one in eight needed human intervention.

Despite the problems, Nuppeney said he and his team are happy with the technology, since it takes under a second to trigger the gates.

The lessons learned from the EasyPass project, he told his audience, are that, if the process goes through, biometric passport reading is a very reliable security measure.

The irony of the situation, he said, is that a good many travellers do not even know they have an e-passport.

"Add in the numbers who are not familiar with the e-reader systems, and you begin to understand why such a relatively low percentage of people have a successful EasyPass interaction."

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