German Airports: Face recognition now also for children

When crossing an EU external border, all travellers will soon have to provide biometric data. This leads to long waiting times and border controls are therefore becoming increasingly automated. This will first benefit people who have already stored facial images on the chip of their „ePass“.

The German Federal Police is extending the use of so-called „eGAtes“ to children. Since the beginning of the holiday season in Germany, the „EasyPASS“ technology used there has been activated nationwide for persons aged 12 and over. The partially automated border control system controls the crossing of an external border of the European Union. It can be used voluntarily by nationals of all EU member states and Switzerland. Those who do not wish to be scanned automatically may have to accept queues at the usual „manual“ control lanes.

All seven major German airports are equipped with „EasyPASS“. As of last month, 230 „eGates“ have been installed, and over 73 million travellers have already passed through the systems. However, minors can initially only use the system in Frankfurt am Main, Düsseldorf, Hamburg and Munich. Further systems are installed at the airports Berlin-Tegel and Berlin-Schönefeld as well as Cologne/Bonn. Stuttgart and Hanover are also to be connected to „EasyPASS“ next year.

Comparison with police databases

EasyPASS“ can only be used with the so-called „ePass“, which stores biometric data on a chip. In the control cabins, the document is placed on a document reader. Then it is checked whether the passport is suitable for „EasyPASS“. The facial image of the traveller is then recorded with a camera and a facial recognition software checks whether the persons correspond to the photographs stored in the passports. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the comparison with the chip takes three seconds, the duration of the entire check is given as 30 seconds.

The passport data of travellers are compared with relevant police databases, including the German INPOL database and the Schengen Information System. At the EU’s external borders, it is now compulsory to search Interpol files for stolen identity documents. This systematic check, also of persons who benefit from the free movement of persons within the Schengen area, was introduced in France after the November attacks of 2015.

If „EasyPASS“ does not report a complaint, travellers can pass through. Otherwise, federal police officers will wait next to the facilities and intervene if necessary. Even if the automatic system does not detect any abnormalities, the persons can still be bothered with further control measures.

Verification of certificates

The „EasyPASS“ technology was developed by a manufacturer consortium of the German companies Bundesdruckerei and Secunet. The facial recognition software is supplied by L-1 Identity Solutions, which now belongs to the French Idemia Group and is involved in various German biometric projects. A direct query of the facial images in „EasyPASS“ with police information systems is currently not possible. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the photos taken are not stored or used in investigation proceedings.

The system checks the authenticity of the identity card in three different procedures („Passive Authentication“, „Chip Authentication“, „Active Authentication“). The Federal Ministry of the Interior mentions cloning or simulating RFID chips and falsifying content as possible manipulation procedures. The certificates of the chips are therefore analysed in „EasyPASS“. These are compared with a „Schengen Masterlist“ to which each Schengen member state contributes. The German master list is maintained by the Federal Office for Information Security and made available to the Federal Police. The EU agency for the operation of large-scale IT systems (eu-LISA) and the border agency Frontex are also involved in the „Schengen Masterlist Project“.

Compensation for increasing control times

„EasyPASS“ was tested in 2009 at Frankfurt am Main Airport and has been in operation there for the first time since 2014 in a pilot project. The installation at the German airports is funded by the „Internal Security Fund“ of the European Union.

The introduction of „EasyPASS“ was justified at that time with the reduction of the control time. However, this is only half the truth, because with the introduction of new border control procedures by the European Union, an increase in waiting times is feared: The „entry/exit system“ (EES), which has already been adopted and should be operational in a few years, stipulates that fingerprints and facial images of all travellers without an ePassport must be taken and stored. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, „EasyPASS“ therefore „compensates already now for the goal that persons entitled to freedom of movement increasingly use automated control lanes“.

Since 2015, the Federal Police have also been involved at EU level in tests on the use of „EasyPASS“ in the new EES, and it have even extended a corresponding pilot project on their own responsibility. At Frankfurt am Main airport and at the cruise terminal in Rostock-Warnemünde, test scenarios specified by the eu-LISA agency were run through.

Further pilot projects

For the planned introduction of the EES in 2022, the eGates could be retrofitted with fingerprint scanners. Travellers could then have their biometric data automatically read in at a „kiosk“ before crossing the control lanes. The tests in Frankfurt and Warnemünde therefore also involved the use of fingerprint technology. Existing equipment from Crossmatch was used, and the Federal Police also tested contactless fingerprint scanners from the French company Idemia. It would also be possible to use iris scans in „EasyPASS“.

Secunet is involved in further pilot projects for reading chip-based ID documents. The Federal Police in Magdeburg and Halle are currently testing a smartphone app for search and document verification with the smartphone, its nationwide introduction is planned soon. Currently, only the facial image is read and displayed locally on the smartphone. In this way, the verification of persons during a check is to be facilitated. The personal data also stored on the chip is used as in „EasyPASS“ for a search query.

Image: In „EasyPASS“ currently only facial images are processed. The federal police are already testing the automatic reading of fingerprints (all rights reserved Bundespolizei).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.