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INS Passenger Accelerated Service System (INSPASS)

Ronald J. Hays


4 January 1996
It's probably obvious to most travelers that the world has changed in the last decade. In the past, the right of travel was only paid lip service in most countries. Only recently, with the convergence of democratic trends around the world and the advent of relatively cheap international air travel, have people been able to exercise the right to travel.

International air travel, in terms of passengers flown, has doubled in the last ten years and is expected to double again by the end of this decade. In the United States, looking at entries made by land, sea, and air in 1991, there were 455 million entries made to the United States. By 1993 that number had increased to 483 million entries, almost twice the entire population of the United States and there is an incredible amount of money involved. The United States Travel and Tourism Administration believes the travel industry produces 10.2 percent of the World's Gross National Product. The recent White House Conference on Travel and Tourism reported that travel and tourism in the United States alone, created a $21.5 billion trade surplus, provided 12 million jobs, and generated $56 billion in tax receipts.

The ease with which people now travel, while a tremendous economic boon to countries on the receiving end, has not been without cost. The infrastructure necessary to efficiently process this increasing movement has not kept pace with its growth. Indeed, there is an obvious physical and financial limit to the growth that Ports-of-Entry to countries can handle. The result has been, in the opinion of some persons, an easing of the barriers which formally kept ineligible travelers such as criminals, terrorists, and economic migrants out of many countries. Last fiscal year at the Ports-of-Entry to the United States, the 4,000 Immigration Inspectors intercepted almost 800,000 persons who were ineligible for admission to the United States. There is no estimate available as to the number of those who got past them.

How then do we balance the needs of enforcement; the prompt identification and denial of entry to persons we, as a nation, do not want to allow into our country, with the needs of facilitation; the prompt admission of those we want to welcome?

One method the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service has been experimenting with is the idea of an automated inspection. That is, the removal of the low-risk, frequent traveler from the inspection lines and allowing that person, in essence, to inspect themselves. Historically, each time a person seeks to enter a country, they must be personally interviewed by a government officer to determine the purpose of the proposed entry no matter how many times that person has entered the country before. This has been necessary because, until recently, it has not been possible to conclusively identify the traveler except by that face to face interview. Abraham Lincoln once said that common looking people must be the best in the world that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them. The trouble is they are difficult to tell apart, especially if they have a vested interest in remaining incognito. Biometric verification provides a potential solution to this problem.

Biometrics can be defined as an automated method of verifying or recognizing the identity of a living person based upon a physiological or behavioral characteristic; that is, it's based upon something we are or something we do.

The word "automated" is necessary in the definition because we want to avoid the inclusion of very common, but significantly less reliable, methods of identification such as a photograph. We want to ensure that our identification is precise and accurate. In addition to automation, there must be three other components: there must be a mechanism to scan and capture an image of the characteristic being observed; there must be some processing of the image; and, there must be an interface with an application.

Most humans perform recognition by observing a characteristic and selecting a matching characteristic from a group of stored images. For example, when we observe a person we look through our brain to see if we have a memory of the person. If we find a match, we "know" we have met the person before. This type of search is called a "one-to-many" search because we are comparing one image to many others in search of a match.

We now have four kinds of automated inspection projects underway. INSPASS (Airport); INSPASS (Land); PORTPASS (Dedicated Commuter Lane); and PORTPASS (Automated Permit Port). The first two use hand geometry; the last two voice verification since they are designed for use by people in vehicles. The difference between the last two is that the Dedicated Commuter Lane also uses a Radio Frequency tag affixed to the vehicle and gets the biometric as the vehicle is moving; the Automated Permit Port requires the vehicle to stop - we also back it up with a "Video Inspection System" that allows an inspector located at a different Port-of-Entry to video conference with the driver if the biometric fails to identify the traveler.

All of our automated inspection systems use a "one-to-one" search; that is we attempt to verify a claimed identity. The person seeking admission to the United States presents a card which has an identifying number which corresponds to a record pertaining to an enrollee. Instead of searching the entire enrollment database, it is only necessary to go to the specific record pertaining to that identifying number, obtain the biometric data acquired at the time of enrollment and compare that to the biometric data now being offered. The easiest way to understand this is to understand the difference between "Are you who you claim to be?" instead of "Who are you?"

There are several well-known biometrics in common use: fingerprints, eye patterns, hand scans, signature dynamics, etc. We are using two biometrics; hand geometry at the airports and in pedestrian lanes at land border Ports-of-Entry. We are using voice verification in the vehicles lanes at land border Ports-of-Entry.

The United States is not the only nation involved in automated inspection systems. The systems which we are using are matched by the Canadians with their version of each; except they are using fingerprints in their version of INSPASS, which they call CANPASS. Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Holland, Germany, and the United Kingdom are actively developing automated inspection systems. Singapore has decided on fingerprints, Australia will be testing facial recognition in Adelaide this summer, and the other countries are going to use hand geometry or a combination of hand geometry and fingerprints.

What is more important, early in the development cycle it became apparent to us that the potential exists for a traveler's nightmare to develop. Imagine if every country had an automated inspection system and none of them were compatible with any other system. Besides having to remember how to use each system, the traveler might have to carry a bag of cards, one for each system.

Recognizing this, the Immigration authorities of Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Germany, Holland, the United Kingdom and the United States have been working for the last year to develop a standard for automated inspections. We have come to a preliminary agreement on the format for an automated inspection card. It is now possible to use, for example, the Canadian CANPASS card in our INSPASS after enrolling in both systems.

This development offers the potential to significantly change the way people travel. Imagine having a single card in your wallet which can be used to charge your hotel room, access your bank account, make a phone call, and automate your trip across international borders. Such a card is not the dream of a futurist; it could be available soon as the result of a revolutionary proposal the United States Government is considering. It is based upon a project the Dutch Government undertook in 1991 with their automated inspection project. Use of cards by travelers is nothing new; the United States accepts cards from our Permanent Resident Aliens instead of a passport and most travelers probably use a credit card when they travel. It was the Dutch combination of these ideas that was novel: they used a "smart" card with an electronic record of the bearer's fingerprint stored in the chip. After using it in their automated inspection system, the card holder could also use it to pay for airport parking or for a stay at one of the airport hotels. Eventually, several thousand people enrolled in the program, at the cost of 100 Dutch Gilders a year. After two years, the Dutch program ended. A variety of reasons have been advanced, but the one most commonly heard is that the Dutch did not want to spend any money to expand the system until the United States completed its test of INSPASS. There may be some truth to that explanation as we have now completed the test, developed a production system, and the Dutch have announced their intention to bring back an automated inspection system which closely resembles INSPASS.

The partnership the Immigration and Naturalization Service is considering is based upon three key ideas:

  • The INS should be the gatekeeper, not the operator, of the system;
  • The card should contain a variety of technological platforms for maximum flexibility; and
  • The card should have a commercial plus a governmental identity.
The idea of the Immigration Service to turn to private industry to operate an automated inspection system would have been considered radical, and undoable, just a few years ago. Today it fits in perfectly with the "reinventing government" strategy which stresses the development of effective ways to control costs and improve the delivery of governmental benefits and services. To quote William Plamondon, Chair of the Facilitation/Reduction of Barriers subcommittee of the recently completed White House Conference on Travel and Tourism: ". . . [w]e must draw upon the individual strengths of the public and private sectors and form a partnership that will encourage people to come to the United States."

In this idea, the INS would retain its role as the determinator of who is allowed to participate in the system and would avoid the role of marketer and producer of cards. Companies that agree to issue cards and maintain the system would be allowed to include commercial uses for the card. This could provide the business opportunity that could justify the expense of advertising the program, making the cards, and obtaining and maintaining the equipment.

We have included in our design the necessary technological platforms to ensure that the card will have a useful life of approximately five years. Most importantly for commercial users today, it will sport the ubiquitous magnetic stripe which the government will not use, making it completely available to the commercial sector. We have also included a microchip in the design as we will require some of the available storage space for automated inspections. We will make the remainder of the chip's storage available to our commercial partners. We think this is especially significant because of the recent announcement by Visa, MasterCard, and Europay of their joint specification for chip-based credit cards.

To further the appeal of this idea to the commercial sector, we will also allow cards prepared by our partners to display the logo of the partner. This would create in the mind of the card holder an instant link between our high technology application and the sponsoring corporation. Just think of the possibilities for a frequent traveler pulling out a card bearing the IBM or United Airlines logo, for example. Now potentiate that image by seeing the card as a charge card, an airline ticket, a medium by which you could access telecommunications systems, an electronic bank, and/or any other card-based application you can conceive.

In our opinion, none of this is blue sky thinking. Its power comes from the linking together in a unique way of already existing ideas. The technological, commercial, and governmental timing are right, we think. We hope to begin implementation of these partnerships later this year.

Any further questions or comments may be addressed to Assistant Chief Inspector Ronald J. Hays, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).