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-This white paper has been provided by kind permission of OmniPerception, UK

The current review of air freight security by UK and US governments presents an ideal opportunity to realise the benefits of next generation facial surveillance technology in protecting the safety and security of cargo areas.

Unwelcome developments in the threat environment, such as explosives disguised as toner cartridges on cargo planes and increasing pressure on security and customs teams from these and other sources, have brought into sharp focus the need to radically review the security of cargo areas.

While the safety and security of passenger planes has arguably never been as comprehensive and stringent as it is today, cargo planes are often more vulnerable to attack for a number of reasons. Security protocols vary around the world and not all cargo is x-rayed or scrutinised as closely as passenger baggage. Even where x-ray machines are in use, critics say that they are often not effective tools to deal with bulk cargo.

The toner cartridge ‘bomb’ incident in October 2010 was just one of a number of worrying developments that have highlighted the danger of a potential terrorist attack on a cargo plane; an attack that could have disastrous consequences for large numbers of people.

The key defence, of course, is good security at the air-side boundary throughout the airport– particularly the achievement of good access control for staff authorised to work air-side among the planes – and this presents a serious challenge for cargo handlers. The achievement and maintenance of top class security measure to prevent unauthorised personnel from entering the critical air-side areas is becoming an increasingly important issue throughout the airports of the world.

The application of modern facial biometric systems has helped greatly where it has been introduced by far-sighted operators, but most face recognition technology can only be used effectively in overt control of access to secure areas, alerting potential attackers and only operating fully effectively if entrants co-operate willingly with the system. Now, UK-based OmniPerception has developed next generation facial access control and surveillance technology that can monitor movement and check identity covertly – seeing without being seen.

The technology has been incorporated in a product called CheckPoint.S™ which has the unique capability to analyse a person’s face and compare it against an existing identity database while the person is moving past a camera at some distance from it. Traditional face recognition technology needs a close-up shot of a person looking directly at the camera in order to have any chance of identifying them.

CheckPoint.S™ was the culmination of many years of research into the core technology and the direct result of 18 months of highly focused research and development (R&D) by experts in OmniPerception’s Guildford, UK headquarters. The final stages of the process were made possible through funding support from BAE Systems - which is committed to championing new technology and innovation.

The fact that CheckPoint.S™ is a covert system that can follow a person’s face and pin down their identity in seconds is set to revolutionise the safety and security of vulnerable cargo areas. The spotting of unauthorised persons is instant and extremely accurate.

If a person is a known criminal or terrorist and has their image recorded on the database, then they will immediately be identified and the authorities alerted.

Though CheckPoint.S™ is an effective security tool on a stand-alone basis, it is of course even more effective when cargo operators and airport authorities work together with local law enforcers to compile and maintain a joint database of known individuals; and this database can be constantly updated as more information comes to hand.

To optimise the effectiveness of this new technology, particularly in the context of international terrorism, the database of known ‘undesirables’ would have to be an international database and receive the support of all countries. Although this would be a challenging task, it should not be
too difficult to achieve and requires political will and multi-lateral trust rather than technological innovation.

The political will now exists to improve security and biometric technology that can make a real difference if used in the right way. I believe that it has immense potential to help protect vulnerable cargo areas, in airports and elsewhere.

The covert CheckPoint.S™ solution has been developed from OmniPerception’s CheckPoint™ Secure Access Control system, originally developed by the company for a major international financial institution to protect secure access to sensitive areas across the UK. CheckPoint™ is an overt system used for both access control and ‘clocking in’.

In the airport security sector, for instance, it is currently being used by one operator in Heathrow to tighten up security there.

One of the strengths of the Heathrow CheckPoint™ application is that it provides a turnstile-type system which prevents anyone entering a secure area until his identity has been verified. It also prevents ‘tailgating’ in which an unauthorised person slips in behind someone entering legitimately. With CheckPoint™ embedded in a turnstile system, this ruse is not available to criminals, terrorists or anyone else.

All our customers are finding that because the CheckPoint™ system is not only quick and accurate but is also easy to use, it has full staff buy-in.

These issues are not to be dismissed. It would be a mistake for the industry to become complacent about the importance of public acceptance – in the case staff acceptance of the technology – or to overlook the need to pay careful attention to the debates about the ‘Big Brother’ society and the potential for infringement of civil rights.

Technology, of course, is only part of a wider solution alongside other security measures, such as staff vigilance and specialist training in how to identify and deal with suspicious people and packages.

Also, these days especially, cost is a key issue for baggage and cargo handlers as well as airport authorities who, like the rest of the world, are experiencing testing financial times. It is important to be mindful of costs considerations and so try to work with customers from the outset to provide them with technology that is tailored to their individual needs.

This way, costs can be controlled and are open and transparent. These austere times have meant that the relationships between technology suppliers and their customers have shifted. There is now a greater onus on the suppliers to provide solutions that are not only effective but also high value for money.

In this context, having decided that a positive identification (biometric) solution is needed, another key issue for cargo suppliers is to weigh up the benefits of using face recognition over other biometrics, such as iris or fingerprint technology.

While fingerprinting is extremely accurate in many areas of its use, it should be remembered that there is a significant percentage of people who do not have a registerable fingerprint at all – either temporarily or permanently. Also, fingerprinting in some applications or in specific geographical areas of the world has significant operational as well as psychological disadvantages.

The taking of each person’s fingerprint means they are required to touch surfaces that other people have touched, which is a distasteful idea to many and does in fact involve some actual risk of disease transmission – especially in epidemic situations. There are also very clear criminal implications associated with fingerprints that can often make their use unpalatable to the public.

Iris technology has proven its accuracy in laboratory trials and in some limited field applications, but in bulk trials with mass transit in mind it has been found wanting. For instance, over 30% of the disabled people in one of the UK Home Office biometric trials proved unable to achieve
iris registration at all. This kind of practical limitation poses a real problem for passport and identification documentation (ID) card applications alike.

Though automatic face recognition has had a good deal of negative press over the years, we could argue that modern ‘third generation’ face recognition technology is now the leading biometric solution for mass transit and mass ID purposes.

One of the key benefits of using facial recognition technology is that it is not as intrusive as the other two methods, nor is it as difficult to use. User acceptance is a key aspect that runs through this whole debate, particularly bearing in mind that both the UK and the US are nations that rely on their good international relations; and the welcome visitors who come from trade and tourism; as well as protecting itself against the unwanted ones.

With this in mind, face recognition is the preferred solution – effective and easy to install, to use and to maintain.

It is clear that the onus will be on cargo handlers and airport authorities to ensure that cargo security measures stay at least one step ahead of the threats. We predict that face recognition technology will continue to play an increasingly important part in that endeavour in the coming years.

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