Hands-on access

A recent survey of passengers on Scandinavian Airlines, SAS, showed that fingerprint identification has become widely accepted. Over 70% of Swedish respondents who participated in a trial to validate their luggage check-in with their fingerprints were positive and thought that the system should be introduced full-scale to allow ticket-free travel and remote check-in. The respondents felt that convenience was the main advantage. In response, SAS has expanded the trial and is now testing the fingerprinting system on several key domestic routes in Sweden, to ensure that the checked-in passenger is the same person who boards the plane.

At Narita International Airport, Japan’s second-largest airport, fingerprint matching has automated another important function: By providing ID and biometric information in advance, hundreds of thousands of foreigners with Japanese residence permits can go to automatic migration desks for quick passport checks and use their fingerprints to open the doors to Japan. The method was introduced in November last year, and authorities hope it will quell the storm of displeasure caused by the stricter security requirements – among other things, that foreign residents of Japan must provide fingerprints and be photographed every time they re-enter the country.  

A perfect match
In Latin America, the Mexico City Airport has combined fingerprinting with the latest technology in intelligent access cards to guarantee the best possible access and identification security of the more than 20,000 people who work there. The dual system offers, so to speak, the best of both worlds.  

“Fingerprint matching is very secure and convenient,” explains José Luis Ordoñez, sales manager for Mexico and Central America at ASSA ABLOY’s HID Global, the company that delivered the solution. “It only takes a few seconds to pass through a checkpoint. A smart card enhances the check, ensuring that the cardholder is the same person who is providing fingerprints. At the same time, the card also shows an image, text and color code indicating what the person’s role is and if that person is authorized to be in the area.”

By migrating an existing card system to V-Smart iClass, with a higher frequency (13.56 MHz) that can hold much more information, such as fingerprints, the card and scanner can “talk to each other” at a greater distance and without generating traffic to a central server. This reduces data flow and therefore vulnerability. It is also a big advantage considering that one of the authority’s requirements was that the system could not have more than 24 minutes of interrupted service during an entire year.  

“Once a person is identified by fingerprint matching and enters a security area, the person automatically has access to the rest of the area, since the ID card is scanned as soon as the person approaches the doors,” says Alejandro Espinosa, project manager at HID Global and the man responsible for the sensitive upgrade. “A disabled scanner automatically blocks entry. If a scanner is damaged or malfunctions, the employees can just go to the nearest scanner, because they are all independent of each other.” 

Heavy traffic
Examples of areas where the system is in full use are customs, luggage handling, flight and ground crew areas, and boarding gates. There are about 120 security checkpoints at the airport where both card scanners and fingerprint matching are required. They form the outer boundary of the countless areas at the airport where strict authorization is required.  

With 24 million passengers and 338,000 flights annually to over 300 international destinations in addition to domestic flights, Mexico City’s airport is the biggest in Latin America and one of the most heavily trafficked in the world.  

For safety reasons, the airport authorities have chosen to manage the entire process of manufacturing access cards and scanning fingerprints in-house. The airport has therefore also purchased a system for issuing cards, manufactured by HID’s subsidiary Fargo. With this system, it is practically impossible to forge cards. Through its Corporate 1000 program, HID Global guarantees unique card numbers ensuring that up to one million ID card codes can be generated with no duplicates anywhere else in the world.  

But what happens if someone injures their ID finger? Will they not be given access? “Not to worry,” Espinosa says, “the smart card has memory capacity for two fingerprints, one on each hand.” And if you hurt both hands, well, maybe you’re better off staying home anyway.

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