How one government ministry is using AI to enhance passport security
By deploying Alchera’s facial recognition technology across a global network of agency offices, Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs adds a seamless layer of security to its passport application process.
How does a government agency deliver efficient passport services without compromising security? That’s the challenge faced by the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) when it switched to biometric passports in early 2020.
Biometric passports are thought to improve security because they create a strong identity link between the traveler and the document. There is, however, a weak link in that security chain.
Traditionally, passport applicants submit a photo and photo ID. An office worker compares the two photos to the applicant’s face in person. For passport renewals, the officer compares the current face and photo with an aged picture that could be more than 10 years old.
Accurately matching faces in different pictures, or a photo to a live face, is actually quite difficult. A 2014 study in Australia found that passport officials incorrectly matched a passport photo to a live face 15% of the time. In addition, officials generated false negatives (i.e. rejected applications with matching photos) 6% of the time. A 2017 UK study of passport officials found similar error rates.
To reduce matching errors, some governments implemented automated photo-matching services. The results have been mixed. In 2016, the UK online facial detection system generated a number of false negatives for people with light and dark skin.
Given the scope of human and technical error, how can governments improve the passport image authentication process?
For MOFA, the solution was Alchera’s facial recognition technology.
MOFA selected Alchera as the preferred vendor after running a two-stage qualifying test. The head to head competition featured six companies with facial recognition technology including global industry giants like NEC and VisionLabs.
The first test assessed each firm’s ability to accurately match images in a Korean Department of Justice database. The database contained records for 100,000 people. Each record had 3 images: a picture of a passport photo, the digital image from each person’s passport RFID chip, and a current picture taken at an immigration checkpoint. The second test required each company to match a new picture to an old passport photo and then match that pairing to a recent webcam shot that was captured in a MOFA office and placed in a MOFA database of 50,000 people.
Alchera outperformed the global leaders with their advanced facial recognition technology. Alchera’s face recognition solution generates industry-leading accuracy rates because of its unique two-step approach:
- Analyze a photo (or live person’s head) with three tools: face detection, facial landmark estimation, and facial fronting. Skin tone is not part of the detection process.
- Construct a digital front face in three dimensions, including head pose and scale, using a proprietary algorithm.
Powered by Alchera, the system can be used in-country or in a MOFA office abroad. When someone wants to renew a passport, they submit a digital passport picture. The passport renewal system uses Alchera’s technology to compare the previous passport photo (if applicable) to the new digital picture. These photos are then compared to the person’s face through a webcam shot taken in the passport office.
Interestingly, these enhanced security measures have a positive impact on customer service. An image match/no match response is generated in less than 1 second including network delay.
MOFA plans to roll out its image detection and authentication system to 450 worldwide locations during 2020. System installation at the local level requires no technical skills. Any office with access to a network and a webcam can install and launch the image matching system in about 30 seconds.
“Given our societal mobility and access to global e-commerce, identification by many means – including facial recognition – has become an imperative for convenience, facilitation of commerce, and security.” – John Mears, Vice President of Leidos
1.75 b number (billion) of passports in circulation worldwide in 2017
57% biometric share of passports in circulation worldwide in 2017
264 m number (million) of biometric passorts sold worldwide in 2018
150+ number of countries issuing biometric passports
146 m number (millions) of biometric US passports in circulation in 2019
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Since 2016, Alchera has empowered businesses to launch products, improve efficiencies, and bring the power of visual AI to their organization.