State-of-the-art border solutions for the modern traveler
by Christine Riveau, VP Strategic Partnerships at IDEMIA
As international travel soars, European authorities have launched the Smart Borders initiative, in search of a solution that will manage the number of travelers at EU external borders and still guarantee free movement within the Schengen area. At IDEMIA, our biometric identity solutions can transform into reality these EU Smart Borders ambitions – and deliver on the promise of efficiency, security and a state-of-the-art user experience that goes along with it.
Once upon a time in Schengen...
Back in 1985, a few forward-thinking European countries decided to eliminate border control between like-minded countries – allowing free and fluid border crossings for everyone. Over the years, the Schengen Agreement has grown to include 26 member states, guaranteeing free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens. Close to 900 million travelers from all over the world will cross its air, land and sea borders every year by 2025 (including EU citizens and third country nationals). Today, EU border guards control the entry and exit of all EU visa holders but no record of when or where they entered is kept, making it impossible to determine if they have overstayed the time period allotted to them by their visa. As international travel skyrockets to heights never seen before, it is becoming critical to facilitate border controls and to be able to match entries with exits.
Drawing inspiration from a similar system
This is a major issue that requires a solution that is both extremely complex (integrating with existing border systems of 26 countries and managing the flow of millions of travelers every day), yet also extremely easy to use. However, IDEMIA recently completed the highly successful launch of the only biometric identification solution in operation at Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 4 that provides a framework to answer the EU Smart Borders challenge. In both contexts, the functional need is the same: tracking entry and exit movements by using digitalization and biometrics to properly identify individuals and facilitate movement throughout the area.
The EU Smart Borders initiative will establish a two-part system. First of all, the Entry/Exit System (EES) will electronically register the dates and places of the entry and exit of every third country national admitted for a short stay. Secondly, a Registered Traveler Program (RTP) will be created for pre-vetted third country nationals who travel frequently. But, beyond establishing this new infrastructure, the underlying objective of this initiative is to make border control more efficient and more convenient for both EU citizens and third country nationals, as well as for border agents. This is where IDEMIA can tap into its extensive experience in deploying convenient digital solutions and in delivering extremely reliable automated systems based on biometrics.
Digital transformation starts with the user experience
The digital transformation of border crossings is not just about taking the existing process and having a machine do it instead – that’s called automation. Rather, it is about rethinking the entire process of crossing the border. This process needs to be secure, efficient and simple – which may be the hardest part. After all, behind every simple interface is an enormous amount of engineering, workflows, process design, human interaction, user experience definition, etc.
At IDEMIA, we believe that designing a simple process demands a human-centered process and technology that adapts to humans – not the other way around. In real life, this means face capture solutions that can already address the height of each traveler, rather than individuals staring at, tip-toeing or crouching down to be captured. A truly great user experience is tested again and again and again – and then again once more!
The second component of a successful digital transformation is putting into place an unbreakable chain of trust. Don’t forget, we’re asking citizens to trade in their biometric data for increased convenience – and while many are ready to do so, they need some reassurance. Citizens crossing the border must trust that their data is captured, transmitted, stored, processed and destroyed properly. National and EU authorities and border guards must trust that the move from manual checks to automated checks will run smoothly and that it will not come at the price of security.
All of this ties back to the reliability of IDEMIA’s solutions. We earn trust based on our experience and reputation. We are experts in identity data management, this is the core of our knowhow. We have demonstrated this at Changi Airport and also through our identification system in one of the world’s most populated regions: India. When an Indian citizen applies for an identity document, IDEMIA is capable of scanning the country database of over 1.4 billion local citizens in less than five seconds to verify that the person is not already there.
The future of Smart Borders
Today nearly all the pieces are in place to make this system go live. Many European authorities already rely on IDEMIA’s expertise in biometrics to verify travel documents to establish the identity of individual citizens and grant them the right to enter and leave the Schengen area. The European Visa Information System is also powered by IDEMIA. However, one big piece of the puzzle is missing: the infrastructure for coordinating the number of points of entry and exit. Remember, there are 26 countries that need to align their individual Personal Information Units (PIUs) with the two European systems. On top of that, when we consider that some countries have more than 1,000 entry and exit points that need to be linked to the national PIU, the scale of this project is really quite impressive. All this should be achieved within the next couple of years...so stay tuned.