Biometrics: The Evolution Toward Digital Identities

Traditional government-issued documents are currently the worldwide standard and function as the primary form of ID. They are required for standard identification uses and as a mandatory step toward other fundamental societal interactions, including registering for banking services, voting, accessing healthcare facilities, and, of course, traveling and border control. The concept of citizen identity in contemporary societies, however, has rapidly evolved in recent decades after making the mandatory transition toward the development of digital citizen identification.

As numerous countries began investing heavily in biometrics for law enforcement and border control, the controversy surrounding these applications has also grown. However, the demand for higher levels of security, authentication, and passenger processing speed in border control have facilitated this rapid evolution. ABI Research forecasts biometric kiosks, e-gates, surveillance cameras, and fingerprint, face and eye recognition devices to generate an aggregate $3.5 billion by 2025.

The Rise of the Biometric Identity

Though not without overcoming some hurdles, biometrics has seen a number of improvements over the last several years. Machine learning developments have allowed for more finely tuned and accurate biometric match algorithms. Fingerprint sensors continue to be perfected and have evolved as a mainstream identification method, along with face recognition, which have simultaneously come to symbolize both anti-terrorism operations and the erosion of civil liberties. Newer biometric modalities like iris and vein recognition entered the fray, ready to claim dominance in specific verticals and use case scenarios (e.g., banking, online transactions, hospitality, entertainment access, etc.).

As technology has advanced, biometrics application began enjoying a higher penetration rate across government and security verticals, also coinciding with a higher threshold of user acceptance. Border control authorities are investing heavily in biometrically enhanced authentication and security measures. These investments are yielding a higher ROI and helping stakeholders develop more concentrated monetization strategies.

This is predicated on the assumption that new infrastructure investments for Automated Border Control (ABC) management, new devices, and software services will be in place. ABC is greatly dependent upon biometric e-gates and passenger registration self-service kiosks using face, fingerprint, and iris recognition. New biometric hardware devices like handheld, immigration ID/authentication biometric device add-ons, access control, and workforce management are also being utilized more by border control. Additionally, new biometric services allow governments and law enforcement to cooperate with international agencies through shared interoperable platforms and enhance their surveillance and counter-terrorism operation intelligence options across all land, air, and sea borders.

Challenges on the Horizon

New challenges around infrastructure upgrades, technology adoption, and interoperability have arisen, which may create additional hurdles for stakeholders. While return-on-investment has been on the rise, maximizing that ROI remains an elusive task. Border authorities and stakeholders must consider several conflicting variables around supporting law enforcement, and balancing biometric surveillance operations with interoperable services — while remaining compliant with government regulations, data protection standards, and dealing with infrastructure and cybersecurity upgrades.

Biometric vendors and service integrators should take these challenges head-on, revisit the border control value chain, and customize their biometrics-as-a-service monetization strategies based on stakeholders’ ROI demands, expansion plans, and infrastructure requirements. Specialization is a key prerequisite, and innovative companies like Gemalto (Thales Group), IDEMIA, Collins Airspace, Gunnebo, Vision Box, Dermalog, HID Global, and Aware each are developing their own unique market strategy by targeting different applications like e-gate and kiosk solutions, face/fingerprint/iris recognition hardware options, passenger management authentication, consumer and mobile biometric solutions, inter-agency data sharing, and interoperable service platforms.

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As part of ABI Research's digital security research service, our Biometrics in Border Control application analysis report looks at the key technologies implementers should keep top-of-mind, revenue forecasts, and the state of the biometrics border control market.