Sydney Airport expands biometrics use

SmartGates expanded, passengers through Customs in 38 seconds, Home Affairs minister claims

Sydney Airport has expanded its use of facial recognition technology, launching new kiosks and a ‘SmartGate’ to allow international travellers to more quickly establish their identities and pass through security.

Read more on biometrics technology

The expansion — four new kiosks and one gate – brings Sydney Airport’s total up to sixteen kiosks and eight gates and will available for use by Australian e-passport holders aged 18 and over and New Zealand e-passport holders.

Commuters wishing to use the gates must first answer basic questions at a kiosk then have their faces scanned at the gates.

These scans are then matched with Customs and Border Protection’s passport records. Commuters with correct matches will then be allowed into the country.

According to federal home affairs minister, Brendan O’Connor, the average time to establish a commuter’s identity using the technology is 38 seconds.

The use of the SmartGates in Australia has climbed in the past year. In January 2010 some one million people had used the biometric technology in Australia. As at the Sydney Airport’s expansion, some 2.7 million had used it, according to O’Connor.

More than one million passengers are expected to pass through Sydney International Airport in the first two months of 2011.

“There’s strong demand for SmartGate from passengers and these new kiosks and gate help meet the increasing desire for non-invasive, efficient and tech savvy ways to travel," O'Connor claimed. “The system is easy to use and it is a safe and convenient alternative for clearing through passport control.”

According to O'Connor, since the SmartGates began operating in July 2009 at Sydney International Airport, the number of eligible travellers using SmartGate has increased from 32 per cent to 50 per cent. As at January last year some 35.5 percent of eligible passengers -- those with an ePassport -- had used the service.

The ePassport project itself was first kicked off in 2005 by then-Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and was intended to drag passport control and border processing into the 21st century while securing the identity of millions of Australian citizens.

The digital face-recognition technology initially went live in Brisbane airport in August 2007 and has since been implemented in Cairns, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney international airports.

As reported by Computerworld Australia the Federal Government in December said it had carried out a major expansion in its use of biometrics to include all onshore protection visa applicants.

Under the expansion, biometric data will be lodged for all protection visa applicants' data in Australia as well as those visas processed in “selected” overseas locations. The move is aimed at enabling the better management of visa and immigration processes, improve identity management and combat fraud, according to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen.

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @tlohman

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAu

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