March 19, 2014 – by Peter B. Counter
Today is day 12 in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 730, a Boeing 777-200 flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. The plane carrying 227 passengers disappeared from radar at 1:22 AM and has since been the tragic subject of one of the most intense, mysterious and drawn out airline disappearances in history.
Shortly after investigations into the missing 777 began, facts surfaced pertaining to two of the passengers on board the Boeing: they had counterfeit passports. This is an alarming detail in the case for obvious and immediate reason pertaining to the safety of the passengers on board flight 370, but it also is a red flag when it comes to biometric passports.
Malaysia was the first country in the world to issue biometric passports in 1998. It is unfortunate that this technology has failed the passengers of the missing airliner. Maxine Most, principal of Acuity Market Intelligence, outlines what can be learned by the lapse in security.
“Had the Kula Lumpur International Airport required biometrics authentication for everyone with access to airplanes, investigators would have a reliable record of each individual who accessed the aircraft prior to take off,” says Most. “These measures may not have prevented the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, but they may very well prevent similar tragedies in the future.”
Maxine is an expert on biometric border control technology, having recently published an in depth research report on the eGate and kiosk market. She continues:
“While the billions of dollars spent on biometric passports, visas, and automated border controls since 9/11 have made us safer,” says Most, a Principal of Acuity Market Intelligence, “more must be done to make sure the biometric technology we have is actually used.”
“Government agencies increasingly rely on biometrics to issue and validate passports and visas, and monitor border crossings on entry and exit. However, transitioning to a comprehensive biometric–based border management and aviation security system is a complex process that, unfortunately, takes time.”
According to Acuity, by the end of this year 110 countries will have issued more than 700 million biometric ePassports representing 83% of all those in circulation. Additionally, 66 countries will require visa applicants to submit biometrics.
More than 150 airports are currently using some form of automated border control eGates or kiosks. These deployments rely on either ePassports or additional biometric registration. Going on Acuity research, at least ten countries (including the United States) collect biometrics from all foreign visitors as they enter the country. Both of these best practices are expected to grow over the next five years.