Mr. Chairman, and honourable committee members, we are pleased to appear before you on this important study examining the security of Canada's immigration system.
As someone who has been active in the field of biometrics for close to a decade, I will begin my remarks by noting how encouraging it is to see that biometrics are specifically included as one of the subject areas in your study. The realization that biometric identification technology has an integral role in immigration strategies is, in my view, significant.
NextgenID has worked with a number of governments at initial stages to help them determine if they should use biometrics, and if so, which biometrics they should use for passports and for border control. We have then participated in delivering technology and systems to help these countries implement face and fingerprint biometrics for passport, visa, and national ID issuance, as well as for border control.
My colleague Mr. Ilan Arnon has been the key technical person on many of these projects, and he will be able to answer your questions, given his first-hand experience on such projects around the world.
I'll begin by discussing examples of security gaps and some specific opportunities to deploy biometrics to strengthen our immigration system.
Deploying the right biometrics in the right applications will unquestionably both improve the security of our immigration system and expedite the clearance of legitimate travellers. Our work has been focused on systems for face recognition, fingerprints, and iris biometrics, which I would suggest are the only biometrics suited to the identification requirements associated with immigration and border control. Any system such as that seeks to verify identities and detect persons on a watch list.
I would like to address three specific security gaps that can be filled in part through the use of biometrics. One relates to visa issuance. The second relates to identity confirmation at the border. The third is a bad-guy lookout at the border, basically surveillance, looking for faces, and seeing if those people are on the bad-guy list.
With regard to visa issuance, the government is currently planning to capture fingerprints and face images during the application process. This isn't in place yet. This is just under initial contract at this point, as I'm sure you're aware. These fingerprints will be used as the biometric to confirm the identity of the traveller on arrival. So if you issue the visa, you make sure that the person who's coming to the border is actually the person he says he is.
This is a commendable first step. However, I would suggest three ways in which this could be improved at a relatively low incremental cost. Given that the face has been captured, facial recognition can be used to check if the applicant is on Canada's bad-guy list. Remember, for a known terrorist there will probably be a photograph, but it's unlikely there will be a fingerprint on file. A face can be captured upon arrival, and facial recognition can then be used to confirm the identity of the visa holder.
Review of a possible match can be performed immediately by an immigration officer with minimal training, unlike the case for fingerprints, for which you need an expert. If a potential face match is found, then fingerprints can be used as an alternate biometric during a secondary check. That's for visa issuance.
The second item is identity confirmation at the border.
When a person arrives at our border, he or she is either known or unknown. Known travellers have been pre-screened through the visa application program or the trusted traveller program. A trusted traveller simply has to confirm that he or she is the rightful holder of the passport. Iris recognition is used for trusted travellers, and as noted, fingerprint is planned for use for visa travellers. Canada is looking to extend participation in the trusted traveller program, CANPASS and NEXUS.
Beyond that, the advent of e-passports will make the use of biometrics to screen all travellers possible and practical. For example, in Australia, at all airports, the e-passport is read, and then a live image is captured and compared with that on the e-passport to determine the authenticity of the traveller. New Zealand and a number of European countries are moving in this direction as well, so they're automating their processes. This means that a good forged document will not be sufficient to gain entry into Canada.
This approach is also leading to automation, using e-gates at the border to quickly screen low-risk travellers and to enable the immigration officers to focus on the high-risk individuals. Canada should be planning to use this approach for e-passport holders from the U.S. and visa-waiver countries. Canada will start issuing e-passports this year. The other countries have been doing so for some time.
A following step would be to then effectively extend the border perimeter by conducting the same identity verification checks at the point of embarkation or before. Let's know who they are before they get on a plane that's coming to Canada.
The third item I want to deal with is what we call “bad-guy lookout”. Currently at our border control positions, there are video cameras deployed to capture and record the passage of travellers through the border. This provides a good record to support an investigation if there has been an incident at the border. However, it does not support facial recognition or watch-list checks that would allow a proactive response.
With the creation and maintenance of a watch list of persons of interest, these same cameras, perhaps with different camera lenses or positioning, could also act as face recognition cameras. The face images could be captured and compared against the watch list. If there is a potential match, this could be reviewed or adjudicated by the officer at the border post or at a central location, and a traveller could be sent to secondary inspection if required. If cameras are set up for identity verification, as mentioned earlier, then of course the same captured face could be used for a watch-list check.
I've been talking about face recognition. Why face? For these applications, face is the best biometric. In some cases it's the only biometric that would be effective. For identity verification at the border, the face is the only mandatory biometric on the e-passport, so it is the only biometric that can be used for the over 100 countries that will be issuing e-passports by the end of the year. For bad-guy lookouts, face is the only biometric for which there is likely an available image to verify against, and the only biometric that can be easily captured at a distance. Face recognition works well, and has been proven to do so in countries around the world for the applications recommended.
I guess the question is that we've talked about technology, but is there a problem? I think it is clear from the press—and I think you people would probably know better than I—that there are significant numbers of persons who commit crimes in Canada, are arrested, charged, tried, and convicted of these crimes, and then deported, only to come back under another identity to do that same thing again. On the CIC website there are five examples of people who have been deported for serious crimes, only to return—some three times, one 17 times—as repeat offenders. They come back, they commit crimes again, and they're removed from the country. This is a cost to society that can be largely eliminated with the proposed bad-guy lookout.
Mr. Chairman, let me close my remarks by noting that as someone who has worked in the industry for years, I am greatly encouraged when I see studies such as the one this committee is undertaking and initiatives such as Bill C-31, which expressly authorizes taking biometrics and enabling what is in effect the bad-guy lookout system at the border. What categories of person should be included in such a bad-guy database is a policy decision for government to make, but it is important for you that you appreciate how the technology itself supports such efforts.
Canada is clearly moving towards the screening and security approach in the Canada-U.S. border agreement and in our recent adherence to the five-party conference—Canada, the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand, and Australia—on biometric data sharing to prevent immigration fraud. Biometrics is a technology that can significantly enhance the security of our immigration and border systems, while also expediting the clearance of legitimate travellers.
I hope these opening remarks have been of assistance. I look forward to any questions you may have on the subject.