Strong Identity, Strong Borders

By Frédéric Trojani, President of the Secure Identity Alliance (SIA)

Frédéric Trojani, President of the Secure Identity Alliance (SIA), looks at the evolving nature of border security and explores the technologies, processes and components that are essential for creating an interconnected – and effective – eBorder strategy.

Border control is an essential security task for sovereign states around the globe. The day-to-day task of scrutinising passengers, checking entry entitlements, and detecting illegal entrants and overstayers underpins the work of border and immigration services. It is a complex task that is set to become even more challenging in the context of the need to respond to a variety of evolving scenarios.

For example, the International Air Travel Association (IATA) is predicting that passenger volumes are set to double in the next 20 years. That means border control services will need to find more efficient ways to cope with the increased numbers of departures and arrivals at airports.

Meanwhile, international security agencies like INTERPOL and EUROPOL have highlighted how international travel is a key enabler for organised crime groups, terrorist movements, drug smugglers, and human traffickers. That means there will be a need for greater international coordination and highly effective approaches to maintain security vigilance, counter new threats and combat transnational crime.

Added to this, continuing large-scale migration flows from areas of political instability, unrest and armed conflict are set to place further strain on already stretched border resources.

The vital role of strong identity

The Secure Identity Alliance (SIA) works with governments and agencies around the world to promote the effective use of identity in a variety of contexts – including border security and control.

Indeed, the use of identity to safeguard border security complements the effective use of identity to record a country’s citizens using birth, marriage and death records and scrutinising applications for a passport.

Technology today plays an important part in enabling and assuring evidence of identity to be processed – and even carried with the traveller via an electronic ID (eID) card or smartphone. Indeed, today’s systems are able to analyse large volumes of data and link information relating to the same person, supported where relevant by biometrics, to deliver an holistic, person-centric view of an individual in real time – supported by proper evidence – making it possible to facilitate entry for genuine passengers.

New and exciting technology innovations are now being developed to assist border security. Building on biometrics, ePassports, eGates, Advanced Passenger Information, visa waiver and travel authorisation schemes, these solutions enable border agencies to assure smooth and seamless travel for genuine passengers while maintaining strong internal and external security; manage human rights and international agreements; and preventing criminal inflows in an efficient and highly cost-effective manner.

Creating a framework for border security

No country has limitless resources to create the ‘ideal’ border control solution. In the real world, a balance needs to be struck between available resources and the expected aims, outcomes and benefits that need to be achieved.

While protecting borders is a top objective, ensuring ease of entry for genuine visitors is vital for the economy and has important reputational benefits that encourage both tourists and businesses to view a country as a desirable place to come to. Cost effectiveness is a further key factor; any resources invested in border control will need to deliver worthwhile results.

But devising the right strategy can be challenging, when set against a background of conflicting considerations and interests: financial constraints, legacy IT systems, the demands for high quality services, the need to respond to new and unpredictable threats, and political and public scrutiny.

In the SIA’s experience, effective border control is rarely achieved in isolation and is far more effective when undertaken in partnership with others – airport and port operators, airlines and other carriers, agencies including police and customs, other countries and even passengers themselves.

Control at the border

There are many ways people enter a country – by foot, by road vehicle, in passenger transport such as an aircraft, coach or train, by tunnel, or crossing a water or land border – and access may be controlled at the point of departure (as in the Schengen area in Europe) or on the mode of transport itself, as well as at the point of arrival. However, the need to verify a passenger’s identity and eligibility to enter a country means front-line officers need effective support systems and resources; fraud detection, watchlists and international databases, passport readers and authentication processes.

For example, is the passport valid? Does it match the person presenting it? Does the passenger have evidence to show they can enter the country?

Automated inspection systems such as kiosks and eGates use automation to check travel documents, biometrics to verify documentation matches the passenger, and check watchlists and chip security futures. If a passenger has pre-enrolled with a trusted traveller scheme, eGates can also be used for embarkation (out-going) passengers.

Australia and New Zealand now operate a paperless visa system that allows applicants to apply online, providing details of their proposed travel plans and identity information – including passport number and nationality. Once approved, passengers can travel without a paper copy of their authorisation. On screening their e-passport at an eGate, border officers are able to complete checks, locate their visa record, and airlines are instantly authorised to allow passengers to board.

The field of biometrics is also evolving rapidly and is increasingly being used as a standard part of the visa application process in many countries – and for passport issuance in Schengen countries. Data fusion with other records is also proving valuable to resolve doubts over identity in an extremely fast manner. For example, US-VISIT holds the biometric records of foreign nationals entering the US and 200,000 fingerprint captures are made daily – with full capability for enrolment, verification and search.

Mobile devices – including smartphones, tablets and body-worn video – are also proving invaluable for the rapid deployment of border control capabilities to small remote airstrips or ports that are not normally fully staffed or resourced. This includes setting up ‘fast response’ teams to deal with the unexpected mass arrival of passengers following a terminal or airport closure or the influx of large migrant groups at a land border. Meanwhile, some countries are using these mobile solutions to undertake on-train border control activities as passengers are in transit.

But border security alone is just part of the solution. For a border to be effective, there also needs to be a high standard of design and issuance of passports and other travel documents, systems to detect fraudulent travel documents and visas, authenticate identity and, of course, appropriate operational processes and good practices will need to be in place to support front line personnel.

Ghana, for example, has recently implemented a fast and effective border and visa management system. Among the world’s top 10 fastest growing economies, the country has 24 million inhabitants and over 8 million foreign nationals. Having experienced a strong rise in immigration in the last few years, primarily from tourists and investors, Ghana wanted to streamline visitor processing. The new solution features an automatic fingerprint identification and face verification system, full integration with the INTERPOL Stolen and Lost Travel Documents Database, and links to the online visa application process.

Looking ahead

There are a number of innovations on the horizon that may well, in the future, ensure countries are able to address their border security challenges in an even more effective manner. We’re already seeing deep data mining, analytics and AI playing an increasingly vital role when it comes to detecting anomalies in large volumes of data and highlighting possible risks for investigation.

Certainly, we expect to see mobile solutions become increasingly prevalent for border services personnel, airport authorities and passengers too. By 2020 5G mobile communications may well open up a world of new possibilities – and may even potentially herald the arrival of mobile digital identity on a smartphone for travellers.

Similarly, ongoing developments in chip technology mean that ePassports will soon be able to carry much more data than is possible today. For example, alongside securely loading electronic passport stamps and visas onto the chip, ePassports will also contain a full travel history of an individual. Combine this with improvements – and enhanced automation capabilities – in the optical detection of fraudulent documents.

One thing is for sure, the IATA and the Airports Council International (ACI) Smart Security initiative is set to stimulate yet further the use of biometrics and usher in the closer integration of passenger, border services and airport operations.

This overview provides just a taste of how ID and digital identity is the bedrock for effective border controls and security.

For more in-depth insights on the design and implementation of a cohesive and effective eBorder strategy, the SIA’s paper Strong Identity, Strong Borders is available for download at the SIA website at