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Technology Updated: 14 Jan 2020

Biometrics on the fly

Identification using authentication like digital fingerprints and facial or iris recognition is making inroads in the world of airports where companies are looking for new technologies to enhance the user experience.

Going through an airport has never been fun. Security checkpoints, long lines to check in, the scramble to make it it to the gate: it’s all an ordeal. And with good reason. The number of air passengers worldwide has skyrocketed. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), more than 4.1 billion passengers passed through an airport terminal somewhere in the world in 2017. IATA expects this figure to double by 2037, when there will be more than 8 billion airline passengers – almost the same number as the population of the planet today. Keeping the ocean of people moving will require Herculean efforts, and the means for doing so lies within us.

"Using the human body as an authentication system will be the saving grace in facilitating the movement of people through air terminals," says Annet Steenbergen, chair of IATA’s Passenger Facilitation Working Group. From boarding to automated border control, more and more airports are incorporating biometrics into their processes as a way to reduce throughput times and to improve efficiency and security, Steenbergen maintains. "Governments and the aviation industry have to prepare together for the next golden age of air travel,” she adds.

The future is already here. At least in Singapore's Changi Airport, where an innovative system captures and analyzes the passengers’ faces at one of the terminal's departure control checkpoints. Using 3D facial capture, the technology is able to recognize a human face instantly. This tool has recently been deployed in the airport in Oslo, Norway, where the data it collects is monitored by local police. Biometrics is already a reality, and passengers are willing to embrace it. According to the Global Passenger Survey, published by IATA, passengers expect new technologies to enhance their travel experience.

“Using the human body as an authentication system will be the saving grace in facilitating the movement of people through air terminals”

According to the survey of 10,408 travelers from 145 countries, 65 percent of passengers are willing to share their personal data in order to streamline security processes, while 45 percent are in favor of replacing their passports with a biometric identification system. "As we move more and more towards digital processes, passengers need to be confident that their personal data is safe," says Nick Careen, senior vice president of IATA.

Biometrics in banking

In other sectors of today’s economy, biometrics has met with success. Customers of Spanish banks, for example, are familiar with this technology. BBVA pioneered the way, using biometric tools to facilitate an instant customer enrollment service, which allows anyone to use their smartphone to open an account and immediately begin using it, simply by taking a selfie and joining a video call. BBVA has also made Samsung’s iris scanner technology, Samsung Pass, available, allowing customers to quickly and easily access their accounts without having to enter passwords, yet still maintaining the highest levels of security.

The bank has gone even further. BBVA and the startup, Das Nano, founded Veridas, a company dedicated to the research and development of personal identity digital authentication software. Veridas is responsible for the development of biometric payment techniques that are already in use at BBVA’s headquarters in Madrid, where employees can pay in company cafeterias using facial recognition. The fintech company Covault, which specializes in security and digital identification solutions for both consumers and businesses, is also part of BBVA’s New Digital Businesses (NDB) unit. Biometrics is proving to be a disruptive tool, and fundamental in keeping the world moving.

This is why IATA is in the midst of an initiative called One ID, which aims to allow passengers to take their entire journey using a single biometric proof of identity (fingerprint, face,or iris). But the international air transport association is still working to establish a framework of trust that would both guarantee the secure exchange of data while ensuring compliance with privacy laws.