BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – By the end of the year, Argentina will become the first country in Latin America to implement a biometric registry to monitor migration across all its borders.
Beginning on April 19, the existing immigration form – known as the Arrival and Departure Form (TES) – which is filled out by hand, started being replaced by equipment that identifies individuals by their fingerprints and facial features.
“The main goal is to facilitate and expedite the movement of people,” said Martín A. Arias Duval, head of Argentina’s National Migration Office (DNM).
Travelers now place their fingers on a scanner and have a digital image of their faces taken by a camera. The system measures the characteristics of each face – such as the distance between the nose and the ears – and stores all of the information in a database.
Given that no two people have the same fingerprints and facial characteristics, the system prevents individuals from entering the country using someone else’s documents.
“We’re also seeking to improve the reliability of these records, which used to be kept on paper and now have a digital signature,” Duval said. “Now, the data cannot be altered or lost. It’s all been backed up.”
Five months after the service was implemented, nearly five million passengers have been registered, according to the DNM.
A total of 930,000 new records were created each month – 31,000 per day – at the locations currently utilizing the system: the Ezeiza and Aeroparque airports in the city of Buenos Aires; San Fernando in the province of Buenos Aires; and Córdoba, as well as two Buquebus and Colonia Express terminals, which provide river transport between Buenos Aires and Uruguay.
“We’re going to cover the approximately 14.5 million arrivals and departures that take place annually at our terminals,” Randazzo said during the inauguration ceremony held for the new technology in April.
Identification in seconds
The mechanism used for biometric identification and registration is simple.
When a passenger places his or her finger on the fingerprint reader at the airport, the system instantaneously sends a message to the National Registry of Persons (RENAPER), the agency responsible for protecting the individual identity rights of Argentine residents.
“If the person who placed their finger on the reader does not match the individual shown in the documents, the system blocks the process and alerts the inspector,” Duval said. “We’ve already had some cases like this.”
When processing foreigners, the system compares the data with a record of their previous entries and departures in Argentina.
And the identification process of Argentines is becoming increasingly precise due to the cross-referencing of the biometric databases of several government agencies. The new national ID card (DNI) and the new Argentine passport, for example, are issued using biometric data.
The compulsory collection of biometric data has been fully accepted by Argentine society, according to Duval.
“People are happy because the new process ensures greater reliability, security and speed,” he said. “The only protests came from those who had a problem with the documents because, for one reason or another, they didn’t want people to know who they really were.”
Biometrics in South America
Other South American countries, such as Brazil, Chile and Colombia, have also experimented with the use of biometric equipment at some of their airports.
In July 2011, Colombia’s Administrative Security Department (DAS) installed fingerprint scanners at Ernesto Cortissoz Airport, in Barranquilla. The initiative improved the country’s ability to monitor the soccer fans who arrived for the U-20 World Cup.
Worldwide, 56 countries use biometrics as part of their border management strategy, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency focused on the safety and development of civil aviation.
In 15 countries, automatic border control (ABC) systems utilize electronic gates remotely monitored, the ICAO said.
In Amsterdam, the Schiphol Airport has even implemented a program whose members pay an annual fee to use an iris scanner, eliminating the use of passports.