The federal government has said it will commence the installation of facial recognition technology at major airports in Nigeria soon.
Prince Clem Agba, the minister of state for budget and national planning, who disclosed this on Wednesday, said the airports would soon be operating automatic security measures that would incorporate the use of facial recognition technology to improve security around the airports and easily detect impostors.
Nigeria would therefore be joining other developed countries that have deployed these cameras to boost security at their airports.
Airports with facial recognition camera
Globally, biometric technology and real-time facial recognition were already priorities for the airport industry before the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on air travel.
But it has taken on a new urgency after this past summer of travel chaos, when staffing shortages in the United States meant fliers were standing in long queues to do everything from check bags to board the plane.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been quietly testing facial recognition technology for passenger screening at 16 major US airports — from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles — and hopes to expand it across the US soon.
As of July 2022, the US Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) had deployed this technology to 32 airports for travellers leaving the US and all airports for travellers entering the country.
This system has been in operation for domestic travellers in the United Kingdom for more than a decade. More recently, British Airlines introduced self-boarding gates and is rolling out facial recognition for its international travellers.
This system is for general passenger security screening. But passenger boarding is just one use case in which facial recognition could be leveraged by airports to improve security, passenger safety, and the overall travel experience.
Features of facial recognition camera
There are different types of use cases where facial recognition technology offers significant advantages over manual, human-based security measures.
One-to-one verification is being typically used at security checkpoints within airports around the globe. You step up to the travel document checker kiosk and stick your ID into a machine. Then you look into a camera for up to five seconds and the machine compares your live photo to the one it sees on your ID.
Real-time watchlist alerting helps airports monitor their facilities to identify persons of interest in real-time for anyone on a watchlist. Live facial recognition software, which can be embedded within an airport’s existing camera infrastructure, enables security teams to rapidly respond to threats while protecting the privacy of bystanders.
Touchless access control is a third category of facial recognition that uses facial recognition to control access to specific locations within an airport.
For instance, airports can use facial recognition to identify authorised employees who are given access into sensitive areas of the airport such as aircraft hangers, fuel storage, specialised equipment, and the runways themselves.
What this means for Nigeria
From monitoring high traffic drop-off activities in airport departure entrance, to streamlining passenger check-in counters and access to employee entrances, to monitoring various other airports compartments, the facial recognition cameras would help create a layered approach to commonplace physical security strategies, including protecting airports entrances, sensitive interior areas, and the airport’s perimeter.
Seyi Adewale, chief executive officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited, described the proposed installation of facial recognition gadgets as a positive development and a more advanced and higher level of security and safety measures at the airports.
According to Adewale, the camera would mean speedy security screening services because fingerprinting and other human to human contacts would be reduced.
Read also: FG to boost security across airports with facial recognition cameras
He said this further enhances data base capture of flying citizens, adding that the data captured must be used responsibly and data well stored/ secured.
“You will recall that China used facial recognition technology to monitor and limit Covid-19 transmissibility and this is a privileged wider use of this technology for future pandemic control and its management,” he added.
He said the cameras would potentially wade off those that want to conduct illegal or unlawful interference at any of the airports, noting that they could be easily tracked, identified and prosecuted.
Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst, told BusinessDay that the installation of facial recognition cameras would be a welcome development and a good technology which will improve security profiling.
Ohunayo however said that security is only effective when parties share information, intelligence and work jointly with other organisations.
“We can’t do this in isolation. Once we do not pull all the other departments along in all stages, organisations may start working against each other and at the end of the day, sabotage the whole process. Security works when there is coordination, intelligence and corporation,” he said.