CATSA builds database for biometric security cards

MISSISSAUGA, ON — By next spring only employees who have passed a security clearance will be able to access restricted areas protected by biometric technology at most Canadian airports – unless they’re accompanied by an escort.

Mark Duncan, chief operating officer for the Canadian Air Transport Safety Authority (CATSA), said Tuesday at the Conference Board of Canada’s Business and Technology Opportunities in National Security and Public Safety event the biometrics pilot project phase is now over.

Duncan said CATSA decided to go with both fingerprint and iris scanning technology because some people have problems with the fingerprint scanning process.

“Also, because the technology is relatively new, there are still arguments on both sides so we chose to embed both.”

The Restricted Area Identification Card system is now fully operational in five airports, and by April, he said, all airport employees, including pilots, fuelling operators, security staff, concessionaires and airport workers, will be allowed into restricted areas only if they’ve been issued a card which holds their fingerprints and iris scans. 

“Obviously, if you’ve got a criminal background you’re not going to make it through,” he said.

Duncan said Canada’s 150,000 airport workers will all have to apply for the security card through Transport Canada, who co-ordinates a security clearance through the RCMP and CSIS. 

“You have a background check and you either pass or fail the check, and then you’re issued the card so we’re providing another layer on that system with a biometric,” he said.

According to Transport Canada, the department has processed almost 132,000 applications since August 2001. Of those, 353 have been denied, meaning those people were not issued restricted area access cards. But it’s up to the employer to decide whether or not to allow the employee to continue to work in non-restricted areas.

There are other safeguards built into the system, however, said Duncan. CATSA had to get approval from the Privacy Commission of Canada to build a national database of employees’ biometric scans to prevent fraud.

“We needed a system that would be (connected) to our server network so you couldn’t get a pass in three different locations,” he explained. “There can only be one of you, so we had to develop a system with a national database. For example, when you get a clearance from Transport Canada and a pass, we get from them a document number. There’s only one document number, so when you go through a location in Toronto we have the ability to make sure that document number is valid. So we had to have some additional hardware to manage that data system and manage it electronically along with the access control systems in the airports.”

Peter Burden, project analyst at CATSA, said the enrolment process involves taking a photo of the applicant, along with capturing their fingerprint and iris scans.

The card is then encoded with the employee’s information in terms of who they work for and what areas they are allowed access to.

“What we want to prevent is an individual going to a different airport and enrolling under a different alias,” he said.

Unicom Canada worked as the integrator on the project. Bioscrypt Inc. supplied the fingerprint readers, while LG supplied the iris scanning hardware. IBM also worked on the project.

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