Australia faces up to biometric passport project

Australia is one of 20 countries that must have a biometric passport in place by October 2004 to maintain its visa-waiver status with the U.S. With the deadline looming, the federal government has made available a further A$3 million (US$1.98 million) to pilot the facial recognition project which is in addition to an initial A$3 million made available the year before.

Australia’s largest biometric project is being undertaken by the passports branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in partnership with Unisys Corp.

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. introduced border protection measures under the Patriots Act which enforces biometric requirements from countries such as Australia which has visa waiver status.

Unisys Positive ID director Tony Roulston said R&D work has been under way for years and implementation should begin early next year, but is dependent on further funding being made available at that time.

DFAT, he said, was actually on track prior to Sept. 11 as passport photos have been digitally scanned for the past four years.

“If you can imagine the previously impossible task of visually testing each passport photo against each other in a database of 10 million you will appreciate the immediate advantage this project provides,” he said.

The image will be embedded with an identifier, namely a smartchip that will contain passport details and other information.

Roulston said there are some minor technology questions to address but DFAT has been an international leader in this field contributing to the introduction of a global standard for face recognition technology by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) earlier this month.

The ICAO blueprint will assist 188 member states including Australia to identity standards at airports using photo ID.

This project will eventually converge with the Customs project known as Smartgate which processes inbound passengers to Australia.