Guest blog: The importance of multi-modal biometrics for borders
29 October 2014 09:06 GMT

Using the latest innovative security technologies in border control environments strengthens the ability of countries to safely and securely control their borders

By Arifin Hossain

Border control security is one of the major challenges for countries around the world. Modern border control systems require sophisticated tools to help support counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, strengthen foreign internal defense, and increase the stability of operations to defend the nation and control irregular warfare. 

The continual need to quickly and accurately identify citizens and foreigners in both controlled and remote environments necessitates flexible border control systems that are streamlined and built to easily scale up as the database grows.

Following the Arab Spring, the Middle East in particular is facing border control challenges. In areas like the Saudi-Yemeni border, governments face a large increase in the number of infiltrators, job seekers, weapon smugglers, and terrorists. In addition, the ongoing crisis in Syria has created challenging border control problems for Turkey and European countries as more than 700,000 Syrian refugees seek to escape their civil war.

Biometric border control

Border security biometric systems include national database deployments in entrance and exit systems, immigration, and e-passports, to track and manage the flow of humans across borders. Many countries around the world are deploying or have already deployed biometric border security systems.

For example, since January, the United Arab Emirates’ passport department prevented 714 blacklisted people entry into the country using a fingerprint biometrics border control system in conjunction with paper documents. Moreover, the passport department at Saudi Arabia's King Abdulaziz International Airport recently arrested two Asians and an African because their fingerprints did not match with a central automated database system.

Modern biometric border control systems fall into two classifications: unimodal and multimodal. A unimodal biometric system is identification of an individual with a single biometric credential such as a fingerprint, finger vein, facial scan, palm vein, or iris.

Alternatively, multimodal biometric systems require two or up to three biometric credentials to identify people which helps increase accuracy and enables 100% of the population to be enrolled and identified. When any of the single biometric fails to identify then another can ensure the identification in a multimodal system. Plus, border control systems based on multimodal biometrics are virtually impossible to spoof or fake since they require two, sometimes up to three credentials for identification.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommends face recognition first among biometric technologies for passenger recognition in a unimodal system followed by fingerprint and iris recognition as additional, suitable modalities to use. However, the use of multiple biometric technologies in a multimodal system can increase accuracy, effectiveness, and improve the performance of border control identification systems.

Unimodal biometric systems are not considered reliable or secure enough because of certain issues such as the non-universality of fingerprints and the fact that unimodal biometric systems have high false rejection rate (FRR) and false acceptance rates (FAR) for identification.

Multimodal biometric authentication systems are considered to be much more reliable for border control due to their reliance on multiple biometric credentials for identification.

Most common multimodal biometric systems use a combination of fingerprint, finger vein, facial recognition, iris recognition, or palm vein recognition technologies. These systems use two factor and up to three factor authentication to compare the identity of a person resulting in optimal accuracy. If one of these technologies fails to identify an individual, multimodal biometric systems can use another biometric to provide accurate identification.

Examples of multimodal biometric border control

As a result of the increase in border problems worldwide many countries are implementing biometric technology to enhance border security.  Hong Kong successfully deployed a multimodal biometric identification system at immigration for residents that started in 2002. Containing face image and fingerprint templates in an embedded chip on an ID card, the system allows citizens to perform self-service immigration clearance at each border checkpoint.

In 2007, Japan deployed a multimodal biometric border management system across 34 airports and seaports, processing approximately 25,000 travelers per day. Recently Australia also started deploying a multimodal biometric border crossing system to manage and facilitate the arrival and settlement of immigrants, where 30 million people cross annually.

As an accurate identification solution, multimodal biometric border control management systems offer the most credible results in an environment that can’t afford to leave any doubt as to the accurate identification of citizens and, as a result, deployments are rising quickly worldwide.

In spite of the increase in unimodal and multimodal biometric border control systems, there are common issues with the interoperability of the enrollment database within  other government organizations like the military, police and jurisdictions, as well as with the implementation of multiple biometric authentication systems into one platform.

In 2008, the US-VISIT program upgraded its border security system from two-prints to 10-prints focusing on interoperability with the US Justice Department. This upgrade also allows them to check fingerprints of individuals in real time and receive responses in 13 seconds.

The Importance of mobility

Multimodal biometric systems have portability issues that inhibit their ability to be deployed in remote locations. Governments are seeking to not only deploy flexible, multimodal border control systems that have the ability to quickly and accurately identity citizens and travelers, they also seek hardware devices that can easily be used in the field, especially in remote locations and in extreme conditions.

While fingerprint identification systems still remain the most popular biometric modality of choice, facial and iris recognition systems in a multimodal capacity are rapidly increasing their presence in the market. Unfortunately, most standard, off-the-shelf biometric hardware capture devices are large and not suited to carry out border control operations in the field.

Border control departments can easily overcome these security problems and increase the effectiveness of identification checks across the border with the latest innovative technologies such as multiple biometric supported portable devices with AFIS compatibility (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) that centrally stores an entire database and has the ability to instantly interconnect among government organizations.

Therefore, handheld devices that support ICAO recommendations of all three biometrics - face recognition, fingerprint, and iris recognition - along with International Standard AFIS can increase data collaboration among organizations like law enforcement agencies, jurisdictions, and the military. These handheld devices also can wirelessly tether with smartphones/tablets which makes it easier to identify people in remote areas while in field border patrol operations.

Using the latest innovative security technologies in border control environments strengthens the ability of countries to safely and securely control their borders. The increase in problems of countries maintaining control of their own borders, especially in times of war and/or crisis, dictates an investment in the latest multimodal biometric identification management technology to establish safe entry and exit of citizens and travelers.

Arifin Hussain is the SEO Specialist with M2SYS Technology, an award-winning industry leader in biometric identity management technology. M2SYS continues to innovate, build and bring to market leading-edge biometrics solutions that revolutionize the industry and expand the applicability of biometrics technology in our marketplace.