Airport Biometrics Preparing To Take Flight In France

The French Civil Aviation Authority is beginning a six-month analysis of fingerprint, iris, and facial-recognition data; the objective: decide which biometric technology is most reliable.

Larry Greenemeier, Contributor

December 29, 2004

3 Min Read

The use of biometric technology will move a step closer to being recognized as a viable security measure at airports worldwide next week. The French Civil Aviation Authority, or Direction Générale de l'Aviation Civile (DGAC), on Monday begins a six-month analysis of fingerprint, iris, and facial-recognition biometric data collected since October at airports in Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Nice, Paris, and Toulouse.

"The objective is to decide which biometric technology is most reliable, then let each airport choose its own," says Laurent Wagneur, director of French IT service provider Euxia SA, which is working with Belgian biometric systems integrator BioWise NV on the project. The European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates aviation safety across the European Union, has mandated that airports across the EU test biometrics to see if this technology can improve security.

At Lyon's airport, Euxia and BioWise worked with A4Vision Inc., a provider of 3-D facial-imaging and recognition systems, to create security badges containing facial-recognition data for 500 pilots, mechanics, and other employees with access to the airport's highly secure tarmac area. The airport hopes to issue as many as 5,000 of these ID badges by June to all of its employees, Wagneur says.

The most significant attributes of 3-D facial-recognition technology are speed and accuracy. Three-dimensional facial images are captured either using a number of digital cameras positioned around the subject's face or by using a structured light grid that captures facial-structure data. This data is stored in a back-end database, where it can be retrieved and compared against other facial images.

"The problem with 2-D is that it is very sensitive to the environment, such as lights and shadows," Wagneur says. Although 3-D facial-recognition technology costs about $2,700 per kiosk, roughly twice as much as a fingerprint-scanning system, the technology isn't subject to the same wear and tear as a fingerprint scanner.

The biometric testing projects under way could play a significant role in the development of Europe's larger s-Travel program, to test use of biometrics, smart cards, and digital signatures during passenger check-in and boarding at airports. BioWise, air transport IT provider Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (SITA), smart-card maker Gemplus International SA, and others have been testing s-Travel since the project's 2003 launch at Alitalia airline's facilities at Italy's Milan Malpensa Airport and Greece's Athens International Airport.

The greatest challenge to successful biometrics in Europe, as in the United States, isn't the technology but how well airlines and airports protect employee and passenger data collected for these programs. France's privacy commission, Commission Nationale de l'informatique et des Libertés, is wary of government agencies or commercial entities using data collected at airports for their own purposes, Wagneur says. "They don't want the police or government agency going to the airports to get information about people."

The U.S. government also is testing 3-D facial recognition technology. The Department of Defense hopes that by the middle of 2005 it will be able to test at the nation's boarders wireless mobile identification technology that can snap 3-D images of people moving into and out of the United States, and check those images against a database of 3-D mug shots. The government already has invested $700,000 in the project, which is being run by A4Vision and Unisys Corp.

A4Vision is deploying its technology primarily in airports and banks in France, Italy, and Singapore, and will soon begin an installation at a stadium in France, says Kelly Richdale, A4Vision's senior VP for worldwide sales.

The Homeland Security Department in October adopted its first biometric facial recognition standard, which supports visual human-facial comparison and computer automated comparisons for watch-list checks and for computer identification and verification. This standard was developed by the International Committee for Information Technology Standards ( INCITS), a standards-development organization accredited by the American National Standards Institute. The standard is expected to facilitate the interchange of photographs across systems and assist in the future development of interoperable biometric applications.

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