x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Eye and facial scans may be the passports of the future

Eye and facial scans may be the passports of the future, after more than a thousand forged passports were confiscated at UAE airports.

More than a thousand forged passports were confiscated at UAE airports last year, an immigration official said yesterday. Brig Obaid bin Suroor, the deputy director of Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department, said at a forum on electronic identity documents that seizing 1,088 passports was made possible only by a database that contains identification records of nationals from Britain, the US, Australia and the Netherlands.

International collaboration is essential to ensure border security, he said. In an opening address to the forum, Brig bin Suroor called for a renewed drive to implement electronic biometric systems to control movements into the country and said that the introduction of e-gates and face-recognition technology this year would be a major step to achieving the UAE's target of phasing out paper-based forms of identification.

"We are looking for more efficient ways of identifying people coming into the country. A key part of this will be to use the latest biometric technology," he said. "It is important for countries to work together to achieve these aims." Lt Col Khalid Nasser Alrazooqi, the department's assistant director of information technology, said everyone would benefit from the new systems. "We now have over 100 e-gates in Dubai International Airport and are establishing a network throughout the UAE. Travellers can reduce transit time through airports by opting to use an e-gate, where their identification is checked by an eye scan. They do not need to carry their passport and so can avoid long queues."

"Our aim is that airports will be self-service, with people using e-passports. The passports will contain a chip with biometric information about the individual. They will be able to check themselves through by passing through scanners." Col Alrazooqi was working with countries around the world to promote a switch to e-passports. "We cannot put a time frame on when e-passports will be fully introduced because not all countries are working towards ... the e-passport concept. We are currently looking into ways of developing the national ID card so it can be used as an e-passport."

Greg Pote, chairman of the Asia Pacific Smart Card Association, a non-profit association promoting smart cards and e-passports, said there was an increasing desire across the world to strengthen border security while at the same time facilitating passenger travel. "With more international travel than ever before, airports will see an increase in volume and this will have to be managed carefully. This technology will also enable the improved delivery of government services through electronic channels."

The Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department has been at the forefront of developing and implementing e-documents to improve security at border controls. As well as giving passengers the option of choosing e-gate cards, the department processes visas online. In 2001 the UAE was the first country to implement an iris recognition system at every border control, helping to identify criminals and deportees. Last July, the Ministry of Interior announced plans to implement a face-recognition system to complement iris scanning.

The recently opened Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport has become a showcase for this new technology. Emirates Airline has also devised a system to enable flight staff to bypass normal security procedures while also being logged on to an e-roster. More than 120 delegates from 35 countries in Dubai for the 7th Government Discussion Forum on Electronic Identity Documents. The forum ends tomorrow.

tbrooks@thenational.ae