Immigration Minister sees biometrics future for border protection

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison plans to capitalise on a period of public calm around the collection of biometric data by building systems to grow existing border protection capabilities.
Polling released earlier this week revealed 75 percent of Australians are comfortable handing over their biometric data to facilitate international travel, especially in the wake of the MH370 disaster.

Speaking this morning at the Biometrics Institute Asia Pacific conference, Morrison said the time was right to ensure that both “government policy and industry focus reflects this willingness of the general public” to embrace innovative border management technologies.

“We need to move with the population. We need to bring the population along with us, and we need to be mindful of the issues that need to be addressed when undertaking those reforms and changes,” he said.

One such issue is the protection of privacy, which the Minister acknowledged “absolutely and obviously” needs to be addressed.

But the Immigration Department’s record is not clean when it comes to protecting sensitive data, having inadvertently leaked the personal details of as many as 10,000 asylum seekers earlier this year.

Asked if his department, and its regional data sharing partners, are ready to reliably deal with an increased volume of biometric data, Morrison said they “have no choice but to be ready for it”.

“Biometrics are a key ingredient in protecting borders, and you need to continue to improve systems, capability and training of people to not only deal with the use of that information, but to…protect against privacy breaches and things of that nature,” he told iTnews.

The son of a former NSW Police fingerprint analyst, Morrison sees a dual purpose for increased biometrics capability – to protect national security while at the same time making border processing quicker and easier for legitimate travellers.

Eventually he wants to see automated systems allow users of Australian airports to move through passport checking processes in less than a minute.

The future traveller, he said, would provide “border clearance information” as part of the check in process.

“The data will then be passed on to Australian agencies for assessment prior to arrival, and this data will be evaluated against security criteria and existing intelligence holdings, so that any risk to Australia’s security is identitfied before arrival,” he said.

“The future traveller will then pass through streamlined, automated passport control systems that examine retained biometric data that is contained in the traveller’s passport against the traveller upon physical presentation on the border.”

Only identities that generate an alert will need intervention from border protection officials, Morrison said.

In the most recent federal budget, the government promised to allocate $2 million in capital funding for biometrics systems software and equipment to expand its current Offshore Biometrics Program – which incorporates biometrics collection into the overseas visa application process – in order to achieve $18.6 million in savings over four years through the program’s expansion.

The initiative will be extended beyond the 20 countries it currently operates in, which includes a number of African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries, and will also introduce “user‑pays arrangements” for the services with third‑party service delivery partners.

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