ePassports EAC Conformity & Interoperability Tests
Prague, September 7th - 12th 2008

RAPID - Technological breakthrough for automated electronic border control

After the extraordinary success of the Portuguese Electronic Passport (PEP) project, in which was applied a new service concept for the citizens: "get an ePassport without papers" supported in a new live biometric data entry machine, a new dream was born to go beyond! – The RAPID!!!
The RAPID is an automated electronic border control system, a new service for ePassports.

ePassport enabled a technological breakthrough at border control security by allowing a massive use of this common Machine Readable Travel Document (MRTD) to cross the Schengen area at all the Portuguese international airports and seaports. The system, known as RAPID, uses facial recognition technology to perform the same passport checks as a human immigration officer, in less than 20 seconds.

This world’s first automatic border control system came into action at Faro airport, serving the Portuguese Algarve region since the Spring of 2007. Being rolled out to all Portuguese airports and seaports, RAPID was inaugurated in Lisbon in August last year, giving travelers with biometric ePassports the opportunity to skip queues at border control. Travelers with ePassports can now walk up to the eBox gate, hold their biometric passport to a reader, step through to a designated spot and look into a camera. If their identity is confirmed then the smart gate opens and the travelers are allowed to cross the border automatically.

In order to increase the global security of travelers and citizens, a large number of national entities have already issued many millions of biometric passports, just in the past few years. As countries all around the world adopt biometric technology to strengthen border controls and the security of its travel documents, RAPID may be seen as the first real innovative service for ePassport holders that all the travellers may discover as a real benefit when upgrading from older passports to biometric chip-based new versions.

The RAPID system was conceived by the Portuguese border control authority - Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) and was produced by the Vision-Box company. This is the first system worldwide to allow an automatic control of passengers who hold electronic passports, thereby removing the need for direct human action. This system combines the operations of reading and checking electronic passports with an innovative feature for assessing the biometric data which operates an automatic door opening device. This feature checks, on a first instance, the genuineness of the electronic passports, validates all data stored in the chip and checks data against Schengen Information System and SEF's Data Bases. On a second instance, it appraises the passenger’s identification by establishing a comparison between the photo stored on the chip and the image of the passenger captured in loco, automatically opening the passage door when both images match. RAPID was made secure by an intelligent system that allows the entry of one passenger alone and automatically adjusts the reading camera to his height. This innovative system will permit a highly rationalized management and a significant boost to the efficiency of the means for border control. By reducing the process of border crossing to an average of less than 20 seconds and by combining a number of gates operating in parallel, it will speed up significantly the flow of passengers at border control.

The RAPID project was launched at the Faro International Airport and assessed by a team of experts and researchers from the Algarve University in order to guarantee an independent evaluation of the performance of this worldwide unique system. The choice of this airport was based on the fact that more than 80% of passengers travelling through Faro are British or Irish passport holders, and an estimated 2,5 million UK citizens visit Portugal every year, crossing the Schengen international border.

Previous experiences with Portuguese ePassports, in which live enrollment based processes were adopted by SEF, had already allowed concluding that a good enrollment guarantees good identity verification. The fact that most of the test set population was coming from the United Kingdom, where the enrollment procedures for face photographs for passports are not based on live enrollment, allowed also to consider during the RAPID evaluation stage the worst case scenario for face recognition, as there were not any warranties, in this case, of the ability of the face recognition system to perform a successful live-match-to-chip operation for identity verification.

During the evaluation process, several aspects of the proof of concept were refined for assuring a comfortable compliance with the requirements defined by SEF, namely in terms of False Acceptance Rates (FAR) and False Recognition Rates (FRR). Initially stated respectively as 1% and 7%, the figures obtained during the evaluation were better than those. Currently operating RAPID measures 3% for FFR.

This new Border Control System for Electronic Passports is equipped with an integrated supervising operation station that allows immigration and border officers of SEF to monitor in an automatic, fast and reliable manner the passenger’s identity and the genuineness of the travel document. Moreover, a single officer may easily supervise the automatic operation of 5 to 10 gates at once, dealing with exception cases and guaranteeing the passenger flow with high quality control standards.

The face is and has always been the only natural way of verifying the identity of a person and in practice; the RAPID system makes use of the biometric feature that is present in every ePassport – the image of the face. It is recognized that the automated identity verification based on face matching currently outperforms human accuracy which presents a figure of FAR around 0,05, while face recognition easily achieves maximum values of FAR at the order of 0,001. Furthermore, it is now known that human face recognition falls short on unfamiliar faces. The high resolution images of the live subject and the improved consistency of lighting and camera alignment are also key factors that guarantee a high performance of the RAPID gates.

The background expertise achieved with the Portuguese ePassport case had already allowed the development team to conclude that adjustable capture conditions for lighting intensity and camera height are important key factors for the face image processing, essential to an efficient face matching and identity verification.

The RAPID solution integrates also various intelligent video analysis features in an automated digital video surveillance system made available to the supervisor officer, enabling a decision making environment for complex surveillance and control procedures, presenting remote and simultaneous display of live and recorded images, providing an intuitive tracking of people, integrating cameras, sensors and alarms in interactive maps, and giving access to on-line content analysis with graphical alerts.

The RAPID eBox gates are modular, present a very small footprint, are compliant with high security requirements such as the DIN 18650, allow a minimization of queuing time through better handling of passengers flow, are integrated with several information systems (SEF, Schengen, etc), enable a cost reduction for passenger handling and provide the user with a Self-Service Positive Experience.

Over the RAPID smart-gates, a self explained video on continuous loop is presented to travelers at large monitor screens, providing instructions on how to use the system. Airline Companies flying to Portugal present the same self explained video to travelers on flight.

This new service for Border Control conceived by SEF may be considered an easy, simple and swift process for the user, as the system automatically checks the authenticity of documents and identifies passengers without human intervention.

No enrollment, additional application or registration is required, so if you hold an European biometric passport and are aged over 18 (Portuguese legal restraints), just avoid the normal queues and walk right up to the RAPID system. It will take just a few seconds to securely cross the Portuguese border.