It is plainly evident that border management is essential to containing illegal immigration, international crime, and terrorism. But implementing effective border control measures while minimizing the impact of security on lawful travel and commerce is extraordinarily difficult and expensive; a herculean task.
While management of travel through international airports requires substantial infrastructure and staffing, management of land and sea borders is even more difficult and complex. It is extremely challenging to prevent a highly motivated individual from crossing a border without impeding lawful travelers, but it can be made exceedingly difficult and risky for them to do so. Tracking exits and overstays represents yet another massive undertaking, considering the lack of infrastructure currently in place to do so in most countries, particularly along land borders. But biometrics have been shown offer a means to achieve more effective and efficient border management, and will continue to evolve as an critical element of modern border management.
Identity is at the core of the visitor screening and border control challenge; if hosts can know who their visitors are, they can know a bit about their story, and hope to assess the likelihood that they will break the law. This is challenging enough for a single visitor, but it must be done for every visitor no matter where they enter; again, without severely disrupting lawful travel.
We as border-crossing visitors use our e-passports and perhaps other government-issued credentials to assert our identity. Identity systems use unique numbers to help aggregate and organize what is known about us and make it accessible during a visa issuance process and upon arrival at the border. Why bother with biometrics? Because biometrics applied to border control satisfies a critical element of the system: to detect and identify those who attempt to intentionally misrepresent themselves.
Biometric search is powerful here, because we can generate a biometric watch list of people who may require additional screening upon visa application and again upon arrival at the border. By searching that biometric watch list, we can know within seconds whether a potential visitor is on it, regardless of the identity that they claim. Applied to security, identity is accountability; biometrics prevent people from erasing their record by changing their identity information. In this way, we can better gauge the likelihood that they will break the law.
Biometrics become even more powerful when systems are federated and more than one biometric data source can be searched. The patterns and inconsistencies between data can be what reveal a visitor’s true intentions. For example, applicants for visas to visit countries within the EU have their biometrics searched against multiple member databases, as facilitated by the EU’s Visa Information System (VIS). This system can alert a country to someone who may be “visa shopping” and thus more likely to be looking for any opportunity to emigrate than to make a temporary visit as granted by their visa. The system also helps detect applicants who are on criminal watch lists.
Integrated search of multiple biometric data sources can be implemented in such a way as to minimize interchange of identity data by following two principles: 1) biometric “probe” data submitted for search against an external “gallery” does not need to be permanently stored in that gallery, and 2) the result of the search does not need to include personal identity data to serve the purpose of the search. Designed properly, a “hit” that informs of a biometric match and inconsistent identity data is generally enough to prompt a more thorough investigation.
Border management is critical to the security of any nation, and identity is at the heart of effective security. Biometrics is among the best ways to determine when someone is deliberately trying to misrepresent their identity, a reliable indicator that a visitor may have a potentially criminal agenda.