AIRLINES and airports worldwide are implementing biometrics to streamline the passenger experience from check-in to boarding.

Biometrics in travel are used for identity verification and management. Muhanna Muhanna, Vice President, Sita government sector, explains that the different biometric types used by travellers include eyes, fingerprints and face shapes.

Better travel experiences

Muhanna says biometrics help travellers in three ways:

  • Identity management and verification. With a higher degree of accuracy than humans, biometrics help governments combat forgery, terrorism and illegal immigration.
  • Automation of border control through the use of self-service kiosks. This means that travellers don’t have to wait in line for passport control or security; minimising the opportunity for individuals to interfere in the process.
  • Biometrics allow governments to focus on the passengers who pose threats, in reality about 5% of travellers, according to Muhanna. The other 95% of low-risk passengers can easily move through the process.

Challenges and concerns

Like any data, the possibility of hacking and theft exists for biometrics. However, Muhanna says what makes biometrics safer than other forms of data is a concept called ‘tokenisation,’ which protects a passenger’s information in the same way credit card information is protected – a token is generated based on information provided, which hackers can do little with as the token is essentially only a representation of data.

Privacy is a concern for technology providers like Sita, and it is here where collaboration is essential. Muhanna believes data privacy standards must be adopted by governments, who will govern when, how and with whom information is shared.

A challenge in the adoption of biometrics is the lack of availability of digital IDs (birth certificates, passports, etc). If very little information has been digitised, it is difficult for technology providers to implement solutions.

Where to next?

In terms of Africa’s progress with adopting biometrics as the norm in travel, Muhanna admits that Africa is behind the rest of the world in the adoption of digital identity and e-passports, however there is a sincere effort to catch up.

E-passports, a passport on a cellphone or a tablet, are emerging as a trend. E-passports make forgery much more difficult, as they are tokenised, says Muhanna.

He envisages a future where a passenger can take a complete journey through the airport using only their face as their primary form of identification.