20-year Anniversary Report: IDEMIA

IDEMIA: Smart borders – A technological and democratic achievement & Future-Proof Access: Flexible and Frictionless

How policy, process and technology were combined to achieve the European shared Biometric Matching System

The European shared Biometric Matching System (sBMS) was founded on a political agenda that was converted into legislation. This legislation was then translated into large biometric IT systems. This process created the foundation of trustworthy biometric technologies – a development that required expertise in order to be achieved.

The policy

To comprehend how the sBMS came to fruition, it is important to understand the history of the Schengen Area. It started on 14 June 1985, with five European countries signing the Schengen Agreement, a treaty that led these now 26 countries toward the eradication of their national borders, to build a Europe without frontiers.

The process

In 2013, the Smart Border regulation proposal was received from the European Commission (EC). The proposal focused on the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the Registered Traveler Program (RTP). The following year studies were carried out to ask the leaders in biometrics if such a system was feasible. The question being debated was: could technology efficiently manage a multi-biometric database that contained millions of records? Keeping in mind that the database had the crucial role of ensuring the utmost accuracy and security of the biometric data, while respecting a stringent response time at border crossing points.

After completing the study on the capacity of the back-end system, it was necessary to test the impact of this idea on the ground, at border crossing points. All Member States implemented pilots to test their technical capacity to efficiently capture traveler biometric data at land, air and sea border crossing points. ICAO recommended capturing three biometrics: face, fingerprints and iris. In order to push the testing capabilities, it was important to capture a combination of biometric configurations (four fingers, eight fingers, ten fingers and face and iris recognition) in varied situations and climates.

While the testing was happening, the world was witnessing many international security threats and incidents that made the Smart Borders initiative an urgent need for Europe. The borders of the Schengen Area needed to be protected and all third country nationals (TCN) needed to be thoroughly checked in order to ensure the security of local citizens and bona fide visitors. The EC issued a new regulation proposal integrating the outcome of the studies and the pilot tests. The proposal was to capture and store biometric data of four fingers of TCN and their faces in the EES database. The aim was to be absolutely proportional and time efficient at border crossing points. 

In quick succession over three years, the EES regulation, the ETIAS regulation and the Interoperability regulation respectively came into play, completing the technological environment needed to provide liberty, security and justice to the European Union.

The successful implementation of the sBMS necessitated the involvement of all European stakeholders: the Commission, the Council, the European Parliament and notably the LIBE Committee, the Member States, the various agencies involved and industry. Industry was greatly involved in carrying out studies and pilot programs.


Biometrics for Smart Borders was built in an open process involving industry, politicians and the general public. Each decision to implement biometrics should take the local context into consideration, be it national, regional or international, and adapt accordingly. By working together and by listening to the needs of all stakeholders, trust in biometrics will be achieved.

Future-proof access: Flexible and frictionless

Society is migrating to access control models that are more flexible yet remain secure, and the adoption of contactless access using biometrics has been expedited by the Covid-19 pandemic. Consequently, biometric technology has emerged as a focus for both governments and private companies as it becomes part of everyday life for citizens worldwide. From smart phone access to border control screening, the goal is to find better ways to provide secure, trusted, and frictionless access points that enable daily activities while keeping people safe.

Experts in biometrics have made this possible with more advances coming every day.

Things that were once physical—key cards, car keys, IDs, credit cards—are being dematerialized into our smartphones. This digital shift introduces unprecedented convenience, seamless connectivity, and security whether by opening a door, verifying identity, or paying for goods and services.

Technology has made it so that what required a physical key and laminated ID 20 years ago, now takes a simple wave and a touchless sensor. These devices can deliver a reliable fingerprint match in mere seconds, boosting accuracy and security. Smart cards and multi-service cards now combine payment and civic use cases resulting in greater financial inclusion. Mobile ID solutions benefit both states and consumers, giving citizens control over identity authentication and creating a more secure and convenient way for agencies to provide refund payments or benefits digitally and remotely. Logical access control and IT security rely on biometrics, too; requiring fingerprints and multi-factor authentication to grant employees remote access to operating systems, and application-based logical access is used to control strategic points of user identities, protecting access to resources for single sign-on or to digitally sign sensitive documents.

Experts know that this progress and power requires stability. Thankfully, 5G technology deployment has begun, delivering the power needed and dramatically improving network connectivity with faster, more reliable connections that meet the demands of ultra-high-definition broadcast, smart devices, and vehicle-to-everything communications.

As the pressure on networks grows, the secure authentication of devices is even more critical. SIM cards protect user credentials by leveraging tamper-resistant hardware; and with properly configured 5G SIM cards, mobile network operators can seamlessly connect mobile devices and IoT connected objects ensuring subscribers gain immediate access to 5G services.

There is no doubt that biometric technology will continue to get even stronger. Privacy and security experts, governments, and industry are tasked with a critical mission to bring the future of identity to the citizen, but they must do so together—ensuring all parties realize the extreme responsibility that comes with it and to continue putting the safety and security of citizens worldwide at the forefront.

Leana Hersch & Maggie McClain
IDEMIA were a Founding Member in Australia and Europe as Sagem Morpho

Applications and use cases | Privacy and policy | Research and development | Technology innovation

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