KLIA authorities say they want to be ready with safe, contactless solutions once travel resumes

KLIA authorities say they want to be ready with safe, contactless solutions once travel resumes. Source: Shutterstock

Facial recognition to replace travel docs at Malaysia’s airport

  • Facial recognition technology will be used at Malaysia’s airport to smooth passenger journeys thru the airport, from check-in to the boarding gate
  • The airport application will replace physical travel docs to some extent, and joins a chorus of other facial rec applications throughout the region
  • But legal and ethical questions still surround biometric tech, especially around data privacy

Among the many issues that the aviation industry has had to endure since last year, it looks like verifying identities using physical travel documents such as airline tickets and boarding passes will not be one of them. Or at least less likely, as more international travel starts to rely on biometric identification like facial recognition to securely confirm identities.

Malaysia’s major airport, the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), is set to be the latest to introduce facial recognition as a single-token biometric identification authentication. Following trials last year before the pandemic set in, the airport’s CEO says will enable travelers to pass through the entire airport without having to show their boarding passes at any touchpoints, from check-in right up to the boarding gates.

Malaysia Airports’ Group CEO Datuk Mohd Shukrie Mohd Salleh said that the single-token airport journey is a major component of the organization’s Airports 4.0 initiative – a drive to bring the airline sector on par with other Industry 4.0 digitalization efforts that are underway around Malaysia, and indeed the Southeast Asian region as a whole.

“This initiative was among several identified mission-critical projects that we forged ahead despite constraints caused by the pandemic,” said Mohd Shukrie. “Apart from the obvious benefit of improving our service levels to passengers by reducing airport processing time, it will also enable our passengers to go through a completely contactless experience and enhance their safety at the airport within the parameters of the new travel norms.

“Additionally, it will also minimize instances of fraudulent identity use.”

Facial recognition popping up around SEA

Applications of the biometric tech were already in wide use before the coronavirus pandemic, ranging from contact-free payment methods to performing quick, verifiable id checks at entrance and exit points. With COVID-19 requiring extra precautionary measures to be taken when outdoors, however, many countries in Asia began exhibiting usage of biometric machines that scanned for temperature changes, and could even detect if faces were wearing masks.

While the pros and cons of biometric surveillance have been hotly debated – with privacy advocates claiming the tech is laying the groundwork for a ‘Big Brother’-like society – one area that is significantly less controversial is in the arena of digital banking, where the importance of foolproof verification isn’t debated.

If banks in Southeast Asia are accepting facial biometric IDs, then it’s a good bet that industries that don’t have such stringent standards will start looking at the technology as a means of authenticating identity, too.

Facial recognition software applies artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies to match a face captured on-camera against a database of millions of faces, and is usually used to identify or authorize access for an individual.

CB Insights’ Artificial Intelligence Trends 2019 report identifies face recognition and edge computing as the two major trends with the most market strength as well as high industry penetration, even surpassing autonomous driving at the center of the automotive market’s attention.

Trust in facial recognition software is peaking in Malaysia, where the technology is also in use in the CamMuka 2.0 system developed by the national cybersecurity agency CyberSecurity Malaysia. CamMuka 2.0 is a computer system that is capable of automatically detecting a person’s face from a video or photo evidence across a collection of individual faces.

“CamMuka analysis results can be used in civil or criminal courts, to establish or challenge an identity of a person in a video recording,” says Dr Amirudin Abdul Wahab, CyberSecurity Malaysia’s chief executive officer.

The conviction in facial recognition to be accepted as evidence in legal proceedings is another step towards widespread biometric ID acceptance. Malaysia’s neighbors Singapore and Thailand are on a similar adoption trajectory, with Thailand introducing biometric e-passports and Singapore securing its international border crossings with iris and facial biometric scan technology.

But for all its security and monitoring advantages, critics believe facial recognition technology may invade personal privacy freedoms. “Despite how controversial facial recognition technology is to some countries, we cannot deny the importance of this technology in ensuring the safety and the wellness of the people,” Dr Amirudin says.

“The surveillance should be enhanced with AI to better equip our society with intelligent tools to detect and track unlawful characters and behaviors. This is crucial especially at our borders to detect illegal entries, as well as drug and human trafficking.

“The technology also enables us to effectively track dangerous individuals via surveillance,” adds the CyberSecurity Malaysia chief.