9th Symposium and Exhibition on ICAO MRTDs, Biometrics and Border Security

In October we attended the 9th Symposium and Exhibition on ICAO MRTDs, Biometrics and Border Security, which took place at the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) Headquarters in Montreal, Canada.

Biometrics and Border Security Conference

The 3-day event brought together officials of international organisations, government representatives, companies and experts to discuss new opportunities and challenges related to machine-readable documents, biometrics and border security. The event took place shortly after the endorsement of the ICAO Traveller Identification Programme Strategy (TRIP Strategy) by the Organisation’s Assembly.

The Strategy “addresses a recognized need for a holistic and integrated approach to traveller identification management”, which “links the five elements of traveller identification and border controls into a coherent framework: (i) evidence of identification, (ii) document issuance and control, (iii) MRTDs, (iv) inspection systems and tools, and (v) interoperable applications” (Djibo, ICAO).

One of the most important relationships addressed at the event was that between aviation security and facilitation, both of which are dependent on traveller identification. Due to growing travel flows and changing travel patterns existing border controls are put under more and more pressure (Laitinen, Frontex), with passenger data and risk-based solutions, as well as Automated Border Controls (ABCs) becoming increasingly important.

Biometrics and Border Security E Gate

The latter were the focus on this year’s symposium, which was to explore “a broad range of considerations that shape ABC developments: newly-emerging technologies; trust; reliability; non-intrusiveness; biometrics; the ICAO Public Key Directory; effective inspections tools; trusted traveller programmes; and challenges to border integrity and ways to address them” (Djibo, ICAO).

ABCs promise to deliver the following: “automated verification of integrity of document; automatic tying of traveller to document”; and “automatic decision on entitlement” (Rajeshkumar, Auctorizium). Importantly, however, ABCs are “not about replacing a border guard with a computer, but giving a computer to a border guard” (Laitinen, Frontex), which emphasises the continued importance of the primary checks.

Today, ABCs represent a rather mature technology, used in around 120 airports of almost 40 countries (Salomon, JSCP); however, they are still “just a tool, and not an intelligent system as yet” (Wong, Hong Kong Polytechnic University), which refers to the weak integration with other elements of border control management, including risk assessment.

Biometrics and Border Security ID Card

Their use is also limited, mostly to registered users and designated groups in the possession of e-passports (e.g., EU citizens in the EU countries), so a way forward would include creating a network of ABC systems, with the ICAO having an important role to play in building a common platform (Wong, Hong Kong Polytechnic University).