Security versus reliability


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There is an automated self-service fingerprint id system for passport control at Ben Gurion Airport. I was one of the early adopters and stopped after a year of frustrating attempts to get it to recognize my fingers. They were charging 50 sheqels/year for the service – the last thing an Israeli wants is to be is a “freier” – someone who is taken advantage of. Not to mention to frustration of dealing with a machine.

The automatic fingerprint system, if it were reliable, might improve security and reduce cycle time to process passengers through passport control.  The Israeli method of “not everything worth doing is worth doing well” has had the opposite effect.  Since the system has a high level of false negatives (not recognizing your fingers), a low number of passengers use it and there is no net gain, not for security nor for passenger cycle time. Here is the latest chapter from the saga  courtesy of my buddy Todd Walzer from iLand6.

FIngerprints Etc…..

I checked in for my recent trip flight from Tel Aviv back to Tokyo, and approaching passport control, I thought “Great. I registered my fingerprints last trip, so now I can whiz through the line”. How wrong I was.

At the kiosk, no matter how many times I placed my palm on the machine, it wouldn’t confirm my prints. I got desperate and even read the instructions, but it just didn’t work. Seeing my distress, a service attendant came over and placed my palm the right way but – still rejected! She brought me to the other side of the hall, where it seems 1 out of the 6 machines had a lower sensitivity calibration, and it finally matched my prints and gave me an Immigration slip.

Returning to Tokyo, I waited on the Immigration line where all foreigners are fingerprinted (even permanent residents like me). The device here is compact, scans only 2 fingers, and is operated by the Immigration officer. It’s made by NEC, and it works the first time. Its purpose is security, not efficiency.

Herein are 2 differing world views. The Israel approach – for those 90% of you who don’t like being fingerprinted or don’t want the hassle – no problem, go stand on the line! Those of you who want to shortcut the line – this is experimental stuff and it may not work. The Japanese approach – everyone does it, and WE’ll make sure it works.

Years ago, when banks started deploying ATM machines, customers worldwide were thrilled to get 24 x 7 access to cash, never mind they were sometimes out of order or out of cash. Japan’s ATM’s, for years, operated only 9:00-18:00, 5 days a week and 9:00-14:00 on Saturdays. The ATM’s always worked, always had cash, and for the first many years there were bank staff to help you.

A 9 hour/ day ATM? Hard to believe. But as I said, differing world views.

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