The companies IDEMIA and Sopra Steria are setting up a biometric recognition system for the EU. For this purpose, fingerprints and facial images from five databases will be stored in a single file. Completion is planned in two years, but in an earlier large-scale IT project of the EU, one of the partners was seven years behind schedule.
The European Union has awarded a major contract for a new fingerprint and face recognition system. A consortium consisting of the two French companies IDEMIA and Sopra Steria is to set up and subsequently manage a Shared Biometric Matching System (sBMS).
The contract was awarded by the EU agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems (eu-LISA). According to the invitation to tender, the framework contract costs around 300 million EUR. Its duration is four years with an option for an extension of up to six years. As the two contractors explain, “one of the largest biometric systems in the world” will be created. In two years, the database will contain 400 million third-country nationals.
Search with one click
The expensive biometric comparison system is the backbone of the Interoperability Project, with which the EU Commission is currently reorganising all biometric-based databases. These are the Schengen Information System (SIS II), the Visa Information System (VIS) and the asylum fingerprint file Eurodac. The criminal records for third country nationals (ECRIS-TCN), which are currently being set up, and the entry/exit system (EES), which is scheduled for completion in 2022, are also being integrated. All third-country nationals will then have to give four fingerprints and their facial image when crossing the border into the EU.
The EU intends to use the EES primarily to tackle irregular immigration and cross-border crime. However, the fingerprints and facial image contained there may also be searched by police authorities for criminal prosecution.
In 2023, a European Search Portal (ESP) is also to be added, enabling all five biometric systems to be queried with one click. A Multiple Identity Detector (MID) will then run in the background to find and report duplicate entries.
sMBS based on existing fingerprint system
The Interoperability Project includes a Common Identity Repository (CIR) in which the biometric data of SIS II, VIS, Eurodac, ECRIS-TCN and EES are stored and stored in original. From this data, templates are calculated, which are then stored in the sBMS for quick comparison.
Three months before the start of the call for tender, the Commission had defined specifications for the quality and resolution of the fingerprints and facial images collected in the EES. Further technical specifications for software and hardware of the sMBS had been provided by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior in its response to a parliamentarian question.
From a technical point of view, the sMBS is not a new development; it is based on the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) installed in SIS II two years ago. Such an AFIS also exists in the Visa Information System, in both cases the software is from IDEMIA. Together with Steria, a consulting company specialized in the development of large-scale IT systems, this AFIS is now being expanded to include facial recognition. The Dutch company Gemalto, which set up and supervised the AFIS in Eurodac, has lost out.
Contracts also for German authorities
IDEMIA is the European market leader for biometric systems. The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) is also considering replacing its facial recognition system from Cognitec with an IDEMIA application, with the manufacturers NEC, Cognitec, AnyVision and VisionLabs also in the race. In the pilot project “Sicherheitsbahnhof Berlin Südkreuz” (Security Station Berlin Südkreuz), the German Federal Police, BKA and Deutsche Bahn have tested a facial recognition system from IDEMIA in addition to two other products. The software was also trialled in the German security research project FLORIDA and the EU project VICTORIA.
In the press release on the award, Sopra Steria and IDEMIA advertise that they have been carrying out EU contracts for more than fifteen years. They conceal the fact that there have been long delays. In 2004, Steria was awarded a contract with Hewlett Packard to upgrade the SIS to the new generation SIS II. It was supposed to be ready three years later, but could not go into operation until 2013.
Image: In the entry/exit system, third-country nationals must give four fingerprints and their facial image. They are compared with existing data (all rights reserved EU Commission).