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Facial, iris scans main identification mode at immigration checkpoints

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Facial and iris scans are now the main identification mode at immigration checkpoints

Facial and iris scans have replaced fingerprint scans as the main mode of identifying travellers at all immigration checkpoints, bringing Singapore one step closer to a passport-free future, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said yesterday.

Singaporeans, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and other travellers who have registered their iris and facial biometrics with the agency can use the new scans at all land, sea and air checkpoints.

More than two million Singaporeans, or about 70 per cent of all eligible Singaporeans, have registered their iris and facial biometrics with the agency, and 130,000 permanent residents have done so.

Those who have not, or are unsuccessful when using the iris and facial scans at checkpoints, will still be able to check in by scanning their fingerprints, said ICA, which rolled out the technology together with the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX).

ICA said the technology, which was trialled at Changi Airport and Tuas Checkpoint last year, will provide "even more reliable authentication of the identity of travellers" and is less prone to misuse as it requires specialised equipment.

Lead engineer Wong Weiyang of HTX's biometrics and profiling centre of expertise said iris patterns were chosen as a biometric identifier as they are more varied and unique than fingerprints.

An iris scan provides almost 250 feature points for matching, compared with about 100 points for a fingerprint. The facial scans act as a "second check" for a person's identity, said ICA. Travellers who have issues verifying their identities owing to aged, scarred or dry fingers would be able to use the automated clearance lanes easily with this technology.

ICA's deputy head of operations development, deputy superintendent Melvin Tiang, said: "With contactless technology, it allows us to capture the biometrics without any physical contact with the machine, so (the process) is hygienic. This is especially important, given this current Covid-19 pandemic situation," he said.

The system takes less than a second to match a traveller's biometrics with ICA's database.

However, children below six years old must still use the manual clearance lanes, as they are not eligible for the facial and iris scans, said ICA, noting that their physical features and related biometrics are still developing.