Australia to Replace Passports with Biometrics

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the new technology is expected to abolish the need for passenger cards, passport control and will replace manned desks and electronic stations with automatic triage. The SmartGates, which were introduced at Australian airports less than ten years ago and used to electronically scan passengers’ passports, will also be replaced by the new system.

“Our ability to harness the power of big data is increasing exponentially,” John Coyne, head of border security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told the Sydney Morning Herald. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) has even figured out what technology it will be using. “The department is asking tenderers to provide innovative solutions to allow arriving travellers to self-process,” a spokeswoman for immigration said. So, this is all contingent on the private sector coming forward and making it happen.

"I think it could be a world first," said John Coyne, head of border security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He said it was the long-term vision of the most senior immigration bureaucrats to "streamline" the arrivals process so international passengers could "literally just walk out like at a domestic airport".

The Seamless Traveller project has been in train since 2015, with almost $100 million budgeted over five years, but the DIBP has only now embarked on the most ambitious aspect of the project, which it says will "transform the border experience".

Dr. Coyne said it was possible early iterations of the technology would filter incoming passengers through a corridor, rather than individual gates, where their biometrics were captured and checked without the passenger ever stopping. "Biometrics are now going in leaps and bounds," he said. "Our ability to harness the power of big data is increasing exponentially."

The department wants to pilot the technology in July at Canberra Airport, which handles limited flights to Singapore and Wellington. It would be introduced at a major airport such as Sydney or Melbourne in November, with the rollout completed by March 2019.

The new technology follows a controversial law passed in 2015 that gives the government a broader ability to collect biometric information from citizens, foreign travelers and minors in Australia’s airports.

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