Australia Wants Biometrics

February 7, 2017

Australia wants to get hands-off with international arrivals, stepping up a game that already allows pre-screened passengers to scan in their passports without involvement by a border control agent.

In a call for private bids by the country’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection this past December, Australia announced its intent to augment its current “Seamless Traveler” program to eliminate the need for paper passports or identity cards for a large chunk of the 35 million annual travelers that visit the country. The vision is that by 2020, up to 90 percent of international arrivals will enter the country via a paperless biometric recognition system.

Though the exact form of that system will depend on which companies submit bids, the mix might include iris scanning, facial recognition, and the traditional standby, the fingerprint. Other options could even include ear shape, voice recognition, gait pattern analysis, or mapping the network of veins in the traveler’s hands and arms.

Australia would be the first country to implement touchless biometric scanning at all of its international entry points. The United Arab Emirates and Singapore have already started to implement a similar strategy at select airports. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport tested a touchless fingerprint scanner in 2015.

“Automated processing technology provides a simpler process for travelers while maintaining the security of our borders,” wrote an immigration control spokeswoman in a statement to Smithsonian.com. “It enables the Australian Border Forces to meet the challenges of increasing traveler numbers.”

The agency says the goal is to simplify technology in order to improve processing times, sweeten the “traveler experience” and bolster border security. But under the current program, which has used so-called SmartGates as part of its Seamless Traveler program since 2007, many people arriving in-country can already scan their passports without the involvement of a border agent. And depending on the country of origin, passports contain a number of biometric data already, including fingerprint information, and facial scan and iris data.

The program already meets or exceeds the 90 percent hands-free threshold in airports, including Brisbane, Cairns, Adelaide and Canberra; the remainder of travelers who cannot self-process are made up of groups like families with young children, for example.

The spokeswoman adds that while the current SmartGate system will be retired, Immigration and Border Control “has not defined the specific solution or how it will differ from the existing SmartGates for arrivals and departures.”

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