Against the recent findings of the 9/11 commission report, Dave Kelly, VP of Sales for ServiceTec Airport Services International, IT support providers for the world's first biometric screening programme, puts the case for wider application of iris recognition.
Air transport services is one of the agencies criticised in the 9/11 commission report which strengthens the case of biometric screening to be introduced at airports across America.
Al-Qa'ida pilot Zacarias Moussaoui was identified as a possible suicide hijacker several weeks before the attack and yet, when he was stopped by metal detectors going through airport security, little was done to prevent his free passage on to the aeroplane.
In this situation biometric testing supported by an effective intelligence database may have stopped him.
The world's iris recognition pilot has been working well at Amsterdam Schiphol and lessons from this scheme should be widely disseminated.
The automatic boarder passage scheme, introduced by the Dutch Ministry of Justice, is the first large-scale application of biometric identification. Frequent flyers are invited to register for a smart card, which contains personal identification and information about their iris geometry. The iris is unique to each person and cannot be altered.
As the passenger checks in, the system compares their iris against that on the smart card. The system is extremely fast, it takes just 30 seconds to a minute to check in. The system is also non-obtrusive and provides an objective assessment. No longer does security have to compare a nine-year-old photograph against the person presenting it - just compare photographs of Prime Minister Tony Blair today with those of the person who came to office!
Crucially, the Schiphol scheme, entitled Privium, requires flyers to prove their identity before their iris and fingerprints are recorded on a database and encoded in the card.
Under the scheme currently in place in the United States, security officials take finger prints and a facial photograph, but still have no way of confirming that the passport holder is actually who their passport says they are.
Information must be verifiable for a truly reliable biometric system.
The 9/11 commission has called for a fast-track screening system for "speeding qualified travellers" and the Privium system shows exactly how it can be done.
The other major benefit is that holders of the card are part of a club and enjoy an improved customer service as they pass through the airport. Using the kiosk system they can collect tickets, check flight times and book cars, parking and hotel rooms. The trade off is that they have to provide personal information to the military police when the card is issued, but this is a small price compared to the ease of passage on a regular basis.
For the airport a biometric screening system such as this, offers heightened security and fast customer throughput.
The scheme in Schiphol has been widened to include a staff identification programme. Recent media criticism of 'lapses in airport security' has focussed on the ease with which journalists posing as cleaners can board aeroplanes prior to take off. With the Dutch system, staff in protected areas also require biometric identification.
Airports are major sources of employment and have particularly large numbers of temporary and seasonal staff so turnover is immense.
Biometric passes would have significant benefits in these situations.
The passes can be controlled electronically so that acceptance of a pass can be timed and it is not possible to swap passes. The advantage is that all organisations operating from the airport could share a common security system and that staff would be allowed fast passage.