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Biometrics in Airport Security

By Kelly Hoggan

Airports are beginning to use facial recognition kiosks for passenger check-ins and security processing.

Biometrics is a key technology that works together with artificial intelligence (AI), especially in airport security as the latter’s capabilities continue to grow. Airports around the world, in fact, are making biometrics in screening travelers an increasingly public presence. Nearly eight in 10 are now planning major biometrics program upgrades over the next five years. But what is “biometrics” and how does it work when it comes to screening air travelers?


In the security world, biometrics measure an individual’s unique characteristics such as their voice or fingerprints. The retinas and corneas in your eyes also have individual characteristics unique only to you, and they make for excellent biometric markers. If they’re accurate and equipped with the right equipment, biometrics-based security systems – including those at airports -- can be extremely difficult for those with bad intent to defeat.


Biometrics for use in security has been a fixture in parts of the airport for some time, too. Customs areas frequently employ facial recognition technology on international air travelers, for one. As flyers pass through certain parts of a customs area, their faces are scanned and matched against people in various security databases and watch lists.


The world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, is also ramping up to launch a complete biometrics terminal. Passengers flying out of the terminal can voluntarily make use of facial recognition scanners at self-serve ticket kiosks as well as at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints and even aircraft boarding gates.


A person’s behavioral biometrics also holds promise when it comes to improving airport security. Using artificial intelligence systems to measure the specific way a person walks – known as gait – on a pressure pad could be a means of quickly and effectively screening air travelers. Researchers say every human exhibits about 24 different movements and factors specific to them when walking. Because each person walks in their own unique way, their walking pattern is specific only to them. Once a thoroughly vetted and cleared person’s gait is entered into a database, the need for him or her to submit to anything more than a simple walk over a pressure pad may even be eliminated.


While developments in AI and biometrics systems relying on it are generally considered a good thing by security experts, privacy advocates do remain concerned on a couple of fronts, including misuse. As we’ve observed, artificial intelligence and biometrics systems utilize vast amounts of data to be fully effective. Any such security systems must be equipped with strong safeguards to ensure the personal and biometrics information stored within them isn’t misused by those being given access.


Biometric technologies hold the promise of being able to process many more travelers through airport security than the systems currently in use. With improvements and upgrades to AI-based biometrics, there may soon come a day when airline passengers will simply walk over some flooring while being instantly scanned by highly sensitive cameras in a process taking mere seconds. Compare such a system with current wait times to get through airport security checkpoints and it’s easy to see why biometrics could be a game changer.

Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.

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