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Integrating physical and digital security at our borders

Submitted by on 30 Nov 2016 – 14:28

By Dr John A. Peters, Manager New Business Development, OVD Kinegram AG*, Zug, Switzerland

In discussions on policies related to border security and management, this article communicates two important messages: Firstly, concomitant with progress in the use of biometrics at border crossings, it is imperative that we maintain stringent requirements for travel documents with good physical security; and secondly, there are significant benefits to be derived from integrating the physical security features with the emerging digital verification processes.

With the number of travellers entering Europe or crossings at borders between countries within Europe constantly increasing, several countries are consciously exploring improved methods for efficient and secure border management. To this end, border crossing points at some airports may be equipped with Automatic Border Control gates or ABC’s to enable convenient and secure verification of the traveller’s passport or ID documents, while most still rely on manual inspection.

This is because of the lack of implementation of the automatic controls or due to the absence of the necessary infrastructure to support such control systems. Due to the vast number of different travel documents, each with their own unique set of security features designed to protect against counterfeits, the task of the document examiner is becoming increasingly difficult. Even with the most sophisticated security features, how can we expect the document examiners to know which security features on each document should be checked and how each of these can be verified?

Why is it important to maintain a strong physical security in the travel documents?

Of course, Automatic Border Controls (ABC) using e-Gates are a key requirement in order to cope with the rapidly growing number of international travellers. Facilitated by the use of chip-based biometric documents, this technology promises increased traveller convenience without compromising security. However, assuming the electronic data in the passport can be read and matched to the biometrics of the document bearer, it is imperative that the ABC system is capable of verifying the Country Signing Certificate belonging to the issuing country. This requires the availability of the corresponding public keys and access to an updated revocation list.

This requirement is not always easy to fulfil, yet without this, we cannot be sure that the personalized data was not created in a substitute chip using a self-generated private key. When this level of trust in the automatic inspection process is not available, reverting to a manual inspection is necessary. Therefore, physical document designs need to be optimized for reliable manual inspection.

How then can the integration of physical security with digital verification benefit document examination processes?

When a traveller approaches an automatic border control or e-gate, he is required to present his passport with the data page containing biographic information face down on the document reader. According to standard procedures defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization, selected information from the data page allows access to the biometric data such as the facial image stored on the chip. This data is then compared with a biometric live scan to confirm a match. However, if the physical security features such as the KINEGRAM are designed so that the same standard document reader at e-gates is capable of automatic inspection of these features, then the level of trust in the document authenticity will be enhanced significantly. This procedure would then be integrated into the check routines of all automatic document readers.

As mentioned previously, if the e-gate is not capable of providing an adequate level of trust in the authentication of the travel document, the traveller will be directed to present his document to a border crossing guard for secondary or manual inspection.

To assist the border guards in this situation, OVD Kinegram has recently introduced a simple yet very efficient solution to enable document examiners to inspect the travel documents using a smartphone or another mobile device.

The solution – called the KINEGRAM® Digital Seal -  involves the use of an App to scan the document and within seconds and without on-line connectivity display a video showing the first-level security features of the KINEGRAM corresponding to that document. Therefore, it is no longer essential for the document examiner to have prior knowledge of the KINEGRAM security features on all travel documents. The App has additional features including basic access control of the biographic data and photo stored in the chip, as well as on-line access to a data-base for verification of document authenticity.

In summary therefore, despite the rapid emergence of automatic border controls in Europe and the associated use of digital verification processes, it is imperative to maintain a physically secure and counterfeit resistant travel document. Furthermore, huge benefits are possible if the physical security features can be integrated with the digital verification process, as exemplified in the case of the KINEGRAM technology described above.

* OVD Kinegram is based in Zug Switzerland, and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the KURZ Group which is headquartered in Fürth, Germany. Over the past 25 years, OVD Kinegram has established itself as the most trusted provider of sophisticated optical security features based on the KINEGRAM® technology – a non-holographic process never disclosed in the public domain and thus out of the reach of counterfeiters. Over one hundred countries world-wide, and more than half of these in Europe, have placed their trust in the use of the KINEGRAM.