All immigration checkpoints in the country have now iris and face scanning for travellers as the main biometric markers, replacing fingerprints, said the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) on Wednesday (28 October).
Demonstrating how this new system works at Woodlands Checkpoint on Wednesday morning, the ICA showed how travellers at the automated immigration lanes have to first get their passports scanned as usual before moving through the first set of flappers.
At the second set of flappers, where the thumbprints would be normally checked, they were requested to look at a machine which scanned their irises and facial features once they remove their masks.
According to ICA, this new system is for Singaporeans, permanent residents, long-term pass holder and other travellers who have registered their iris and facial biometrics with the Agency, and they can use the new scans at all land, sea and air checkpoints in the country. Fingerprints will still be used if the other two biometric identifiers are not available.
ICA also revealed that nearly 70 percent (more than two million) of Singaporeans from the age six and above with valid passports have registered, whereas 130,000 permanent residents have not done so.
However, children under the age of six will not be eligible to use this new scans as their physical features and related biometrics are still developing.
As for international travellers who have registered their fingerprint, iris and face details at the manual counter when they first arrive in Singapore will be allowed to use it when they depart the country and for future travels.
For anyone who has not registered with the Agency, they will be asked to clear immigration via the automated gate using their fingerprints. They can also register on the spot at the checkpoints manual counters while on a journey.
“At the manual counters, our officers will capture the biometrics that need to be enrolled and that will automatically be stored in the system for future use,” said Deputy Superintendent Melvin Tiang, the deputy head of operations development at ICA.
He added, “You don’t have to purposely make a trip down to ICA building for enrolment.”
It was also stated that the new contactless system has been in place since July this year at land, sea and air checkpoints, however it does not extend to immigration points for cars and vehicles for now.
Iris scanning is more reliable
Iris patterns have higher amount of variation and uniqueness as compared to fingerprints, making it more “robust and reliable” for identification purposes, said the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) at a media briefing on Wednesday.
It explained that an iris scan offers nearly 250 feature points for matching, as opposed to only about 100 for a fingerprint. HTX added that the iris does not change much with age, whereas fingerprints can fade due to multiple reasons like ageing, scarring or dryness.
“The use of the two biometric identifiers will provide even more reliable authentication of the identity of travellers and will further strengthen ICA’s ability to safeguard Singapore’s borders,” HTX said.
Although both the iris and face will be scanned simultaneously, the iris will used as the main identifier, and facial recognition offers a second check of an individual’s identity, ICA noted.
If that’s not all, another good feature of an iris and face scanner is that it stops any form of contact with travellers, making it a “more hygienic and efficient way” of immigration clearance.
DSP Tiang said, “This is important as we reopen our borders against the backdrop of COVID-19”.
In the future, ICA also plans to execute a “new clearance concept” which allows Singapore travellers to walk through immigration without the need to present their passport.
“In the future, we intend to allow residents to be able to clear our immigration system even without presenting a passport, and this will come from 2022 onwards when we implement the New Clearance Concept,” DSP Tiang said.