Cus­toms mov­ing with the times

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - David Car­roll

NOTH­ING brings an over­seas hol­i­day to a halt like run­ning head­first into an Im­mi­gra­tion or Cus­toms queue. But if you think the de­lays are bad now, imag­ine the scene when su­per-jum­bos are de­liv­er­ing more peo­ple than ever to our in­ter­na­tional gate­ways. The jour­ney from duty-free to the bag­gage carousel could be painfully long and tir­ing. Un­less, that is, you have a bio­met­ric pass­port.

Since 2002, Aus­tralian Cus­toms has been test­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy that au­to­mat­i­cally iden­ti­fies and checks ar­riv­ing pas­sen­gers with­out the need for hu­man in­ter­ven­tion.

The sys­tem, known as SmartGate, takes an im­age of a per­son’s face, then com­pares it to a 3-D digi­tised im­age stored in their pass­port.

If the two pho­to­graphs are the same, the sys­tem quickly per­forms the nor­mal checks. If a match is not suc­cess­ful, the per­son is re­ferred to a Cus­toms of­fi­cer.

To im­prove ac­cu­racy, a pas­sen­ger’s face can­not be ob­scured in any way, which means hats and sun­glasses must be re­moved. But Cus­toms says the tech­nol­ogy can cope with ‘‘ nor­mal vari­a­tions to the face’’, in­clud­ing the ad­di­tion of fa­cial hair, changes in ex­pres­sion, and the ef­fects of age­ing.

Self-pro­cess­ing us­ing SmartGate should not only be more ef­fi­cient and con­ve­nient for pas­sen­gers, it will help Cus­toms of­fi­cials fo­cus on high­risk trav­ellers and de­tect forged or stolen pass­ports.

To use SmartGate, you will need to up­grade to an Aus­tralian ePass­port, which in­cor­po­rates a chip stor­ing all your pass­port de­tails and a dig­i­tal im­age of your pass­port photo. Any­one who has re­ceived a new pass­port since late Oc­to­ber 2005 will al­ready have one.

Tri­als of fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy and the ePass­port were un­der­taken at Syd­ney and Melbourne in­ter­na­tional air­ports be­tween 2002 and 2005, us­ing Qan­tas air­crew and se­lected mem­bers of the air­line’s fre­quent-flyer pro­gram.

Af­ter eval­u­at­ing the re­sults and mak­ing some re­fine­ments, SmartGate Se­ries 1 was rolled out at Bris­bane’s in­ter­na­tional air­port ear­lier this year.

Within the next cou­ple of months, Cus­toms plans to im­ple­ment the sys­tem in Cairns, fol­lowed by Syd­ney in April next year and Melbourne one month later. Re­main­ing in­ter­na­tional air­ports will fol­low.

Fa­cial map­ping is clas­si­fied as bio­met­ric be­cause it in­volves mea­sur­ing a phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tic to iden­tify a per­son.

Other familiar bio­met­rics be­ing used for se­cu­rity pur­poses in­clude fin­ger­prints and iris scans, but stud­ies are ex­plor­ing many oth­ers, even the unique way each of us walks or smells.

Some of the most in­ter­est­ing se­cu­rity tech­nolo­gies are be­ing demon­strated at the Unisys Se­cu­rity In­no­va­tion Cen­tre, a work­ing lab­o­ra­tory that opened last month at the Univer­sity of Can­berra. Among them is vas­cu­lar recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy, which cap­tures an im­age of the veins in a per­son’s fin­gers or hand, and voice-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy, de­vel­oped dur­ing the past two years at the univer­sity to iden­tify some­one over a phone.

The cen­tre is also show­cas­ing the reg­is­tered trav­eller sys­tem be­ing used in some US do­mes­tic air­ports to cap­ture a reg­is­tered pas­sen­ger’s two irises, 10 fin­ger­prints and a fa­cial im­age. Com­pared with SmartGate, the reg­is­tered trav­eller sys­tem may seem a lit­tle over the top, es­pe­cially when only one of the three bio­met­rics is used for ver­i­fi­ca­tion. But the sys­tem an­tic­i­pates the pos­si­bil­ity that US air­ports will even­tu­ally opt for dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies.

Bio­met­rics is not the only thing be­ing ex­plored by se­cu­rity ex­perts. Re­searchers are look­ing at ways to mon­i­tor be­havioural char­ac­ter­is­tics, in par­tic­u­lar the way peo­ple act when they are, for ex­am­ple, an­gry or fear­ful. In a few years that should ac­count for just about any Aus­tralian trav­eller not hold­ing an ePass­port. David Car­roll’s col­umn on new travel tech­nol­ogy ap­pears monthly in Travel&In­dul­gence

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