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What are Biometrics and How are They Used in Travel

Some travelers, particularly those in countries that use biometric passports, don’t know what to think about using this kind of data in travel. It can feel invasive and overly intimate.

However, using biometric data has a number of benefits, including increasing the safety of travel and making some parts of traveling faster and easier.

Here’s what travelers need to know about biometrics so they can feel comfortable with the process and understand how their data is used.

What are Biometrics?

Biometrics are simply physical characteristics that can be used to identify a person and to distinguish one person from another. There are a number of these kinds of characteristics.

Facial recognition, including a simple photograph, is one form of biometric data. Other forms include retina scans, and fingerprints. 

Sometimes, all of these b are used in travel. Other countries may choose one or two of these to use in order to identify travelers entering or leaving their country.

What are the Different Ways Biometrics are Applied to Travel?

Biometrics are used in travel in a number of different ways. Primarily, they are used when issuing visas and are included in passports.

Some countries require that travelers who want to get a visa to their country submit biometric data. Travelers may even have to show up at an embassy for a special appointment to do this.

Often, this data is used to ensure the identity of the person applying for the visa.  This helps cut down on visa fraud and may make trouble safer.

Governments can compare the biometric data they received to other data in the system to ensure that a person is who they say they are.

When the government ensures that the traveler is who they claim to be, they can also ensure that the person is safe.

Most governments around the world record biometric data when they arrest someone or charge them with certain crimes. This data is stored in vast databases that are used for identification.

These databases are accessible to other governments when they are granting visas. This ensures that they are not granting a visa to someone who is dangerous or potentially so.

Governments may also use this data to make sure that the people who actually enter the country are the ones to whom they have granted visas and/or passports.

They may set up scanning equipment at ports of entry, like airports. Most of the time, travelers will not even know that these are there.

These search the faces of those who walk by and make sure those match the faces of those whose passports or visas are processed.

Many countries are now including biometric data on a chip inside each passport they issue. 

Other countries can scan this chip and receive biometric data on the traveler who is standing before them.

How Does a Biometric Identifier in a Passport Work?

The chip inside a biometric passport is a computer chip like any other computer chip. Similar chips live inside every phone, computer, etc. 

These particular chips hold biometric data about the traveler. This may only include their photograph, but may also include a retina scan or fingerprints. 

It all depends on what each individual country collects as far as biometric data. If they ask for it before issuing a passport, chances are good that they include it on the chips in their passports.

These chips usually include all the other data from the passport, as well, like the traveler’s name, birth date, etc.

Upon arrival at a port of entry, immigration officials will scan these chips. They will see the data that is on them on a screen that the traveler cannot view.

This allows them to do several things. First of all, it allows them to make sure that the person in front of them is actually the owner of the passport. 

Next, it allows them to make sure that the data on the chip matches the data in the actual passport and that there aren’t discrepancies. 

It also permits them to look at the data on the chip vs. the data that was submitted for any visas the passport holder is using to enter the country.

They can ensure that the person using the passport is the same person who applied for and obtained the visa that they are using.

If there are any discrepancies on any of these levels, immigration officials can detain the person until they figure out what is going on. 

They can make sure that the person is safe, and not a criminal or a terrorist, before they let them enter the country.

What are the Benefits of Biometrics to Travel?

There are a number of benefits to biometric travel. First and foremost, biometric travel makes everyone safer.

When it’s easier to identify a person and ensure they aren’t using a fraudulent passport, it's easier to keep dangerous people out of a country. 

This makes both citizens and other travelers safer within its borders. When dangerous people can’t get in, everyone benefits. 

Biometrics can also speed travel up significantly. When travelers can be scanned electronically by facial recognition and other systems, there are fewer lines.

The lines that do exist can also move faster. Officials can scan passports faster than they can flip them open, find the right page, read what’s there, verify it, and move on.

Finally, biometrics allow more of airport security to work behind the scenes. Officials can scan passports and photos as people move, compare them, and only appear when there’s a problem.

This can make airports and travel in general less threatening and, once again, speed things along in yet another way.

Overall, biometrics help make travel safer and easier. Travelers don’t have to share too much of themselves to gain these benefits.

Some travelers may not love being fingerprinted or knowing they are scanned, but they can remember they are trading that for more security and fewer lines.

Most will find any sacrifice worthwhile.

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