Biometric Access Control in Belgian Ports

The new pioneering maritime security law in Belgium: what it is it and how does it impact Port Security in Belgium, and the rest of the world.
Frederik Bormans

The Need for Enhanced Port Security

In today's world, where the security of maritime operations is more critical than ever, traditional methods like RFID badges and access codes are proving insufficient because they can be lost or passed on. The increasing sophistication of threats, particularly in the realm of drug smuggling and unauthorized access, has highlighted the urgent need for more advanced security measures. This is especially true in the maritime sector, where the complexity of port operations and the sheer volume of cargo movements demand a more robust and fail-proof security system.

The New Maritime Security Law and Ministerial Insights

Responding to these security challenges, the Belgian government has introduced a groundbreaking maritime security law, effective since January 1, 2023. This law marks a significant shift in the approach to port security, particularly emphasizing the use of biometric data for access control. Minister of Justice and the North Sea, Paul Van Tigchelt, underscores the importance of this development, stating:

This law provides, among other things, better perimeter security with more and better fencing, cameras, and now also the use of biometric data for access control, among other things. This is important because we know that a system with access codes and badges without biometrics can be too sensitive to abuse.

Paul Van Tigchelt, Minister of Justice and the North Sea

The Belgian government has introduced a groundbreaking maritime security law.

We fully agree with the minister's assessment regarding RFID technology. Despite its two decades of use, RFID technology exhibits notable vulnerabilities. The ease with which RFID cards can be exchanged or stolen is a significant concern. Additionally, the system is susceptible to hacking, a fact underscored by the ability to remotely clone RFID cards within mere seconds. Another critical drawback of RFID systems is their focus on verifying the badge rather than the individual holding it. This flaw introduces a level of uncertainty about the true identity of the person carrying the badge. As Maldonado succinctly put it:

In seconds you steal someone's badge, have a complete copy, and you walk into the building.

D. Maldonado, Security Researcher

Read our full article on the flaws of RFID badges.

Recognition of NineID and Alfapass

In line with this new legislation, two companies have received recognition from the Minister of the North Sea on the advice of the National Authority for Maritime Security: NineID and Alfapass. These companies have undergone rigorous checks by DG Scheepvaart and the Center for Cybersecurity, ensuring their biometric access control systems meet the high standards required for port security and safety. Alfapass, known for its digital identification, and NineID, a pioneer in biometric access control systems, are now authorized to process biometric data and offer these services to companies in the port. This recognition not only validates their technological prowess but also sets a precedent for other companies in the maritime sector.

The rigorous vetting and verification of companies like NineID and Alfapass by authoritative bodies underscore the importance of balancing security enhancements with privacy protections. This careful approach ensures that the implementation of biometric systems does not infringe upon individual rights. Concerns such as function creep, covert data collection, and the potential revelation of sensitive personal information are addressed through stringent compliance with privacy laws and ethical standards. The recognition of these companies signifies not just a step forward in maritime security, but also a commitment to upholding privacy and data protection in the face of advancing technology. For more insights into how GDPR intersects with biometric technologies, we encourage reading our detailed article on the subject.

The new regulatory framework and rigorous checks, make sure that we can start implementing more secure and safe systems, and increase global port security. Or in the words of the Minister:

Now that these two companies have been recognized to provide this service, we can get to work to close this backdoor [the flawed system with access codes & badges] as well.

Paul Van Tigchelt, Minister of Justice and the North Sea

PSA Breakbulk's Implementation of Biometric Access Control

Leading the way in practical application, PSA Breakbulk in the Port of Antwerp-Bruges has become the first shipping terminal in Belgium to implement biometric facial recognition for visitor, trucker and contractor access control. This implementation, facilitated by NineID's technology, represents a significant leap in port security. The system requires visitors to pre-register by scanning their ID and taking a selfie, which, upon verification, generates a QR code for terminal access. This process is further secured by a facial scan at the terminal, ensuring that only authorized individuals gain entry.

The pre-registration process at PSA Breakbulk is not just a security feature; it also ensures compliance with new legal requirements. This regulation mandates thorough access control and registration to detect individuals who are prohibited from accessing port terminals due to their violation of specific laws related to narcotics, toxic substances, and related illegal activities. The new legal framework outlines a detailed screening of port personnel for potential links to organized crime. This recently initiated process is carried out by security and intelligence services.

PSA Breakbulk has become the first shipping terminal in Belgium to implement biometric facial recognition.
PSA Breakbulk is the first shipping terminal in Belgium to implement biometric facial recognition.

Dennis Verbeeck, general manager of PSA Belgium’s Non-Container Division, highlights the effectiveness of the new Biometric Facial Control system implemented with NineID:

With the introduction of biometric facial authentication, we are increasing surveillance and access control at our terminal. With this new technology, we now exceed the increasingly stringent ISPS regulations. NineID's facial verification biometric access control system offers an unprecedented level of precision and security, which is vital for the protection of our maritime operations.
Dennis Verbeeck, general manager of PSA Belgium’s Non-Container Division

Read the complete PSA use case on the implementation or watch this use case video.

Conclusion: A Pioneering Step Towards Global Maritime Security Transformation

The collaboration between the Belgian government, NineID, and PSA Breakbulk marks not just a new era in maritime security, but potentially the beginning of a global transformation. By moving beyond traditional access methods and embracing biometric technology, Belgian ports are not only setting a new standard in port security but are also serving as a test bed for the rest of the world. This proactive approach is a clear demonstration of how innovative solutions can effectively address current security challenges and pave the way for future advancements. 

As these technologies are tested and refined in Belgium, they hold the potential to revolutionize port security on a global scale, ensuring that the maritime industry remains at the forefront of safeguarding its operations and the global supply chain.

The forward-thinking approach by PSA Breakbulk could very well be the catalyst that inspires similar implementations across ports worldwide, setting a new benchmark for maritime security and operational efficiency. Or in their own words:

We highly value Safety & Security within our PSA Group,. We therefore regularly invest in new state-of-the-art technologies. We will continue to evaluate the hands-on experience that we are now gaining at PSA Breakbulk to see if we can implement it in our other business units within EuroMed and the Americas.

Yves Stevens, Regional Director HSS EuroMed & Americas

Frederik Bormans

Certified Port Facility Security Officer and International Business Developer

About the author:

Frederik Bormans serves as a Business Developer at NineID and holds the distinguished title of a certified Port Facility Security Officer. With a keen interest in port security and ISPS regulation, Frederik delves deep into the nuances of compliance, technology, and the human aspect of port facility management. As an expert dedicated to evolving port security measures, Frederik's insights on the NineID blog continually enrich and inform readers, helping them navigate the ever-evolving maze of port security challenges.