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DFAT, DIBP move forward with digital passport

by Justin Hendry •
Free resource

Topics: IT Services; Software; Digital Transformation; Fed.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is forging ahead with the development of a digital passport in anticipation of changes to Commonwealth legislation surrounding the use of contactless technology for identity validation.

DFAT is currently testing a virtual travel identity model which it developed in conjunction with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) during 2015-16, according to DFAT’s latest Annual Report.

“Laboratory testing is underway to ensure that this [digital passport] will be compatible with the SmartGate automated border processing system”, it states.

The development of a ‘Cloud Passport’ for travel between Australia and New Zealand was first announced in DFAT’s 2014-15 Annual Report, as one of the winners of the department’s inaugural Ideas Challenge in June 2015.

In preparation for the virtual travel identity, the Federal Government is currently looking to modify current legislation to enable contactless immigration clearances to occur through the existing SmartGate automated processing system.

The Migration Amendment (Visa Revalidation and Other Measures) Bill 2016, which was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this month, aims to allow the use of contactless technology for self-processing at SmartGates. Contactless technology confirms individuals’ identities by using a facial image as a biometric identifier, removing “the need for eligible travellers to present a passport to validate their identity in automated immigration clearance”.

“The live facial image of the traveller at the SmartGate will be matched against an image previously verified as the unique identifier associated with that identity.”

DIBP intends to use two databases for image verification: the Australian Passport Office database and its own departmental systems.

According to the bill, SmartGates embedded with contactless technology will be gradually rolled out to major airports from May 2017. DIBP currently holds a $25 million contract with Vision-Box between 20 March 2015 and 30 June 2018 for the provision of 92 biometric SmartGates across eight Australian international airports.

While approximately 6.9 million travellers – or 85 per cent of eligible travellers – used SmartGates for self-processing between July 2015 and June 2016, according to DIBP’s 2015-16 Annual Report, only travellers with ePassports from 14 countries (other than Australia) are eligible to use the process on arrival. The Bill will align the SmartGate processes of both arrivals and departures to allow any traveller to be processed using contactless technology. 

The contactless technology enhancement is a component of the Seamless Traveller initiative from the 2015-16 Budget, where it was allocated $93.7 million over four years. It is expected to contribute to the initiative’s “estimated savings of $32.9 million per year in compliance costs”, according to the Bill.

DIBP received a total of $164.8 million in the 2015-16 Budget towards the design and scoping of a new ICT platform to manage biometric data and visa information, and for the rollout of SmartGates. It later cancelled the new ICT platforms component of the measure, which had been allocated $8.9 million, to conduct “further analysis of the current biometric platform and exploring opportunities for future solution designs”.

UniSys was selected in February to provide DIBP’s new Traveller Border Clearance Platform for clearing incoming and departing travellers under a $2 million contract.

DFAT’s Passport Redevelopment Program also saw progress in 2015-16, and the department intends to introduce an online system for passport applications shortly. Due to this shift in focus, an anticipated redesign of the existing paper passport application form has been shelved.

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