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Australia hails the end of passports as it rolls out biometrics at airports



  • Biometric border technologies can scan and authenticate you without you ever knowing, or needing to stop, now Australia are going to use them to replace passports, for good


Australia, for those that have never been, is a beautiful country – and the last thing any of us want when we’re travelling there is to be randomly stopped, patted down, sniffed by a dog, have our bags rifled and get quizzed by a border security guard, and in a few years time all of that will be a thing of the past – unless, of course, you’re a criminal.


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We’ve all known for a long time that the paper based passport that we all get issued would one day go the way of the dodo. After all, biometric technologies – whether that’s facial, fingerprint, iris or voice recognition – have been used to authenticate users for years, decades in some industries, and now Australia’s government has decided it will be the first to take the plunge and get rid of the iconic documents.

Dubbed the “Seamless Traveller Initiative,” their plan is that by March 2019 over 90% of the 40 million air travellers who enter the country each year will be subjected to a “contactless” border control system that simply lets them walk straight out of the airport without having to stop along the way, and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection will begin rolling out the new system later this year.

Over the next few years both the manned stations as well as the current crop of SmartGates – the gates people have to stop at today to have their faces scanned – will be abolished and replaced by a completely transparent biometric authentication system that uses a system of cameras equipped with machine vision technologies to scan people as they walk by. And it’s this transparent system that the authorities are relying on to improve security and reduce bottlenecks and costs.


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Contactless authentication is nothing new, companies like SRI have been developing systems that can read your fingerprints, face, irises and even your brainwaves from a distance of at least ten feet at a rate of four hundred people a minute for a couple of years now, but this is the first time a government has proposed using them to eliminate passports.

“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,” said John Coyne, head of border security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

“In our future operating model, we will seek to build ever less intrusive, more seamless and faster processing processes and systems for the legitimate and law-abiding majority of travellers and traders,”said Michael Pezzullo, the Australian Secretary of the Department of Immigration.

The system might face its challenges though – firstly there are the legal and security issues involved with capturing and storing biometric information, and then there’s the increasing issue revolving biometric spoofing where hackers and criminals are finding new ways to circumvent new biometric security solutions by cloning peoples’ fingerprints and irises from selfies and confusing facial recognition systems with clothing.


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Then, inevitably as contactless biometric solutions become more commonplace, and as hackers manage to find new ways to trick them, one day we’ll see the introduction of new brainwave scanning systems which on the one hand have already been shown to be able to uniquely identify individuals, but also pull secrets right from their heads.

And as for what comes next, well, after airports expect to see these technologies show up in the “Rings of steel” that surround cities like London and New York – something that privacy advocates will love, especially now that artificial intelligence can tag suspicious individuals – whether or not they’ve been convicted of a crime – just by their facial features, and all of that is just the tip of the iceberg.

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