November 25, 2020

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Singapore Uses Iris and Facial Biometrics as Primary Identifiers at Immigration Checkpoints

The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has been progressively implementing more secure and efficient immigration clearance, in collaboration with the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX).

Since July 2020, all automated and manual immigration lanes and counters at the passenger halls of Singapore’s land, sea and air checkpoints have been equipped with iris and facial scanners.

Iris patterns and facial features will replace fingerprints as the primary biometric identifiers for immigration clearance. Fingerprints will be used as a secondary biometric identifier for travellers who are unsuccessful in their iris and facial scans.

Secure and Efficient Immigration Clearance

Since ICA implemented the enhanced-Immigration Automated Clearance System (eIACS) in 2006, fingerprints have been the primary biometric identifier for immigration clearance at our checkpoints. ICA started enrolling the iris images of Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents from 1 January 2017, as iris patterns have a number of strengths as a biometric identifier compared to fingerprints.

By using iris patterns in lieu of fingerprints for identification, issues with fingerprint verification, such as deterioration of fingerprints due to ageing, scarring or dryness, are avoided. This will enable travellers who currently have difficulty authenticating their identity using fingerprints to use the automated immigration
clearance lanes.

Second, iris patterns have a higher degree of variation and uniqueness than fingerprints, and are therefore more robust and reliable for use for identification purposes. An iris scan provides almost 250 feature points for matching, as compared to about 100 feature points for a fingerprint. In addition, specialised equipment is required to conduct the iris scan, which makes it less susceptible to misuse.

To further strengthen the identification process, authorities will employ iris and facial scans concurrently. Facial recognition provides a second check of a person’s identity. The use of two biometric identifiers – iris patterns and facial features, will provide even more reliable authentication of the identity of travellers, and further strengthen ICA’s ability to safeguard Singapore’s borders.

Transforming Immigration Clearance

For travellers, the new immigration system allows for simultaneous and touch-free capture of these two biometrics, and offers more hygienic, more convenient and more efficient immigration clearance.

Singapore Citizens, Permanent Residents, long-term pass holders, as well as international travellers on our Frequent Traveller Programme (FTP) who have enrolled their iris and facial biometrics with ICA, are eligible for this new mode of clearance

When these travellers approach the automated immigration lanes, they will be prompted to use their iris and facial biometrics for immigration clearance. If authentication via iris and facial biometrics is unsuccessful or if they have yet to enrol their iris and facial biometrics with ICA, such travellers will be prompted to clear immigration using their fingerprints.

The use of iris and facial scans is part of Singapore’s plan to transform their checkpoints, to provide travellers with more secure and efficient immigration clearance. They aim to realise the New Clearance Concept (NCC) at checkpoints by 2022.

Beyond multi-modal biometric clearance, the NCC will eventually enable Singapore residents to clear immigration at checkpoints without the need to present a passport. They hope to enable the majority of foreign visitors, including first-time visitors, to clear immigration at the automated lanes on arrival, without the need for prior enrolment of their biometrics.