Biometrics could guard Australian borders by 2010

The biometric data of each person entering Australia could be permanently stored in a central repository for identity verification and cross-checking between federal government departments, national and international anti-identity fraud efforts, and border control systems.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Australian Customs Service are all using biometrics for varying levels of identity management.

A DIAC spokesperson said the department will increase the use of biometrics for identification in the lead-up to 2010, when it expects to provide a single identity for DIAC clients “regardless of what business function is being undertaken”.

Under its three-year identity management strategy, covered by the Migration Legislation Amendment (Identification and Authentication) Act of 2004 and the Privacy Act, DIAC will employ facial recognition, iris scanning, and fingerprinting to verify the identity of noncitizens entering Australia.

This information will be stored in the department’s central Identity Services Repository, which will be complemented with an ID management toolkit, including high-integrity enrolment and registration systems, forensic document examination techniques, a specialist identity investigation capability, advanced name search software, and an online document verification system.

The expansion of the back-end biometric systems is designed to accommodate the additional biographical, travel, and biometric client data, and to improve data processing. Developing biometric projects have already been linked into existing DIAC systems.

According to DIAC, the technology is in a stage one roll-out to identify people taken into the detention centers in Maribyrnong, Villawood, and Perth. There are plans to be able to verify client identities against existing records.

“[The project goal] is to allow officers to access the department’s databases to enable identity and eligibility verification checks to be conducted without the need to bring clients to a departmental facility,” the spokesperson said.

“We are building the capacity to use facial-imaging and finger-scan biometrics to anchor identity in selected business processes according to risk, [allowing] checks to be made at each interaction with the department.

“[The project] also provides the department with a core biometric acquisition and matching solution for use in other business processes.” These processes include two separate projects to improve identification by accessing biometric images stored in both the Australian and New Zealand electronic passports.

Contentious identities will be examined in the Identity Resolution Center, which will see “facial mapping and fingerprint resolution experts” crawling through complex identity matching cases referred to the center.

A beefed up forensic document examination system will help experts verify the authenticity of client immigration and identity documents, and will also be available to policing agencies such as the Australian Federal Police for the same purpose.

The spokesperson said the Australian Crime Commission can interact with DIAC through a memorandum of understanding signed in May, enabling it to participate in the Australian Identity Protection Register, which records lost and stolen travel documents.

DIAC will further its international biometric and identity management projects, according to the spokesperson, who said the department assists countries to develop their own document examination capability, in addition to training its own staff and agents from external national departments like Customs.

“The department participates in a range of international biometric and identity issues to ensure it is fully informed about international developments and trends,” the spokesperson said.

Prior to the project steamroll, DIAC initiated an Integrated Trials Project in 2005 to assess the technology’s impact on different business processes, and to create guidelines for the distribution of client information.

“The trial results assessed the amount of information required to be provided to clients, staff training requirements, the conditions under which biometric scans [can operate], which biometrics are easy to collect and use, and the effectiveness of the automatic matching and verification process,” the spokesperson said.

Last year DIAC tasked IBM to help improve its IT systems for the projects, and selected Unisys as the provider of biometric solutions, software tools, and research.

Acquiring “intimate” biometric data, such as blood and saliva, is excluded by the Migration Legislation Amendment Act. Privacy concerns regarding biometric data, according to NSW Council of Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy, include the lack of adherence to standards for data distribution and storage, and its provisioning to external agencies including those involved in law enforcement.

DIAC reports that identity fraud costs Australia more than A$1.1 billion (US$969 million) per year.

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