Canadian transportation authority wants security in the blink of an eye

While it might not be James Bond material yet, biometric technology is making its way into the public sector, particularly in the areas of transportation and border control.

The Big Three are fingerprint, facial and iris recognition, two of which are being piloted in four Canadian airports.

The Canadian Air Transport Authority, or CATSA, is using fingerprint and iris recognition to boost existing security systems at Canadian airports.

The biometrics are embedded in a restricted area identification card (RAIC) to control access to restricted areas by airport employees.

Four airports are currently testing the RAIC; eventually, the cards will be rolled out to 20 airports across the country. The fingerprint technology was provided by Bioscrypt Inc. and Cross Match Technologies, while the card technology was supplied by HID Corp. The iris recognition system, LG Electronic’s IrisAccess 3000, is already being used for tarmac and sensitive area access control at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam and John F. Kennedy airport in New York.

There are three options to help deal withe growing volume of air traffic: build more airports, tell people to come to the airport five hours early, or use technology to process them more efficiently, says David Johnston, vice-president of worldwide marketing with LG Electronics. Biometrics is one solution: With iris recognition, for example, the chance of two identical irises is one in 10 to the 78th.

“”After the age of one, unlike fingers, unlike hands, unlike faces, the iris really doesn’t change,”” he says. “”An algorithm for fingerprints usually doesn’t work very well for kids, it doesn’t usually work very well for people who do manual labour such as in the Third World.””

In Canada, CATSA is using biometrics only with employees, not passengers. So far, it has enrolled about 2,000 airport employees — a process that takes about six minutes per person. “”There was extensive testing done with Transport Canada and [fingerprint and iris recognition] were the two more mature products at the time,”” says Rob Durward, director of operations support with CATSA. “”Fingerprints have been around forever and there was a debate between iris and facial [but] at the time iris was a little more mature.””

But he says it’s still too intrusive from a passenger perspective. “”I could see down the road that if the technology became a little less intrusive and it took no time to enroll,”” he says, “”but I would say that’s many years out.””

CATSA sits on an interdepartmental biometrics committee that is looking at the use of biometrics in government departments, such as citizenship, immigration and transportation. One obstacle these departments face is easing citizens’ fears – a problem CATSA has encountered to a small degree.

“”We are vigorously interested in the protection of individual privacy and believe this is actually a privacy-enhancing tool as opposed to Big Brother watching,”” says Johnston. “”This is your last chance to watch out for yourself in an environment where you’re confronted by spam and network attacks and identity theft.””

In fact, he says, the technology can authenticate users anonymously — a concept being explored in the area of medical tests. It’s also being used by Afghani refugees in Pakistan who are being provided with a repatriation package provided by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to help them go home.

“”Without papers it’s very easy to see how somebody could say my name is Mohammed Abbas on Monday, get the money and the package, then go back on Tuesday and say my name is Akbar Mohammed,”” says Johnston.

Iris recognition allows officials to identify anybody who has ever been enrolled in the system before — even without a name.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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