The Australian government has proposed a biometric border control system designed to permit the majority travellers through passport checks without human assistance by 2020.
The Seamless Traveller project, first announced in 2015, has a budget of $93.7mn AUD (£57mn) for the next five years and has begun the hunt for technology providers which could provide biometric solutions, including facial, iris and fingerprint recognition.
Beyond removing the need for human intervention, the proposed biometric system would also replace current electronic passport stations, introduced over the last decade.
Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, commented: “Through the use of cutting-edge technology, such as SmartGates, we are providing benefits to travellers and industry while meeting national security challenges head on…”
The country’s department of border security is looking to pilot the scheme in the Australian capital of Canberra from this summer, before setting up in larger airports in Sydney and Melbourne in November and completing a further nationwide rollout by mid-2019.
With the introduction of the project, inevitable privacy concerns have been raised. The new system follows a controversial law passed in 2015 which allows the government wider control over the collection of biometric data from citizens, as well as from foreign travellers and minors, passing through the nation’s air and sea ports.
The amendment was made in an effort to ‘streamline seven existing personal identifier collection powers into a broad, discretionary power to collect one or more personal identifiers from non-citizens, and citizens at the border…’
While the law does not specify which biometric data can be captured, it mentions facial images, fingerprints and iris, and states that the gathering techniques should not be ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’ and must take place ‘with humanity and with respect for human dignity.’
It also adds that biometric information can be collected from ‘minors and incapable persons…without the need to obtain the consent or require the presence, of a parent, guardian or independent person.’
Australia is far from being alone in its investment into biometric border control measures. In the U.S., fingerprints and facial images of foreign travellers are stored for seventy-five years. A joint Canada-U.S. project known as NEXUS also makes use of biometric authentication, specifically iris recognition – allowing pre-approved passengers travelling between the two North American countries to use self-serve kiosks.