Australian airports will soon replace passport checks with facial recognition technology

Australia is looking to replace traditional ID checks at its airports with "world-first" biometric technologyScott Barbour/Getty Images

The Australian government is looking to overhaul security at its airports as part of its ongoing efforts to automate 90% of air traveller processing with no human involvement by 2020. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection will start transitioning towards a "contactless", self-processing system that would do away with the need for travellers to show their physical passports, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Replacing manned desks with electronic stations and automatic triage, the new system would allow for passengers to be processed using biometric recognition technology that scans their faces, irises and/or fingerprints. Existing SmartGates that electronically scan passports and were introduced less than ten years ago will be retired in lieu of the new automated system.

The move comes as part of the government's ambitious Seamless Traveller initiative, which was announced in 2015, that aims to streamline passenger processing. The initiative will cost an estimated $94m over five years from 2015 to roll out "next-generation automated biometric processing at major air and sea ports".

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An immigration spokeswoman told the SMH: "The department is asking tenderers to provide innovative solutions to allow arriving travellers to self-process. The department has not therefore defined the specific solution or how it will differ from existing arrivals or departures SmartGates."

"I think it could be a world first," John Coyne, head of border security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said. "Our ability to harness the power of big data is increasing exponentially."

The new technology will be piloted at Canberra airport in July and will later be introduced at major airports including Sydney and Melbourne in November, the SMH reported. The rollout of the new system is expected to be completed by March 2019.

"This target is already routinely achieved in some international airports in Australia with departures SmartGates," a spokeswoman told The Guardian. "The department has robust contingency arrangements in place should system errors effect passenger movements and processing."

The department said in a 2015 statement that "biometric capability will reduce manual processes allowing a fast, seamless self-processing experience for up to 90% of travellers and enable border control officers to concentrate on passengers-of-interest."

Innovative biometric solutions have been adopted and implemented by numerous sectors, particularly the financial and banking sectors, as a more convenient and secure form of authentication since it depends on that unique characteristics of a person that is hard to steal, fake or replicate.

Biometric checks have already been deployed at JFK Airport in New York and Dulles airport in Washington DC. Last year, the US Customs and Border Protection introduced facial recognition and iris-scanning technology at the Otay Mesa, California, outbound pedestrian border crossing.

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