Big biometric upgrade for Immigration

By Julian Bajkowski

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has gone to market for a substantial upgrade of its biometric identification systems that use facial recognition and fingerprinting systems to electronically check-up on prospective entrants to Australia.

Tender documents released to the market reveal that Immigration authorities are seeking to buy commercial-off-the-shelf technology that will allow them to scan through and cross match potentially millions of people to make sure they are claim they say.

Once awarded, the contract appears likely to become the cornerstone for other federal biometric purchases, with the documents saying that: “If other Commonwealth Agencies decide to procure the Requirement from a successful Tenderer in the future, DIAC intends to facilitate that procurement using the mechanisms in this RFT [request for tender] and the Draft Contract.

The casting call for the big ID technology upgrade comes as the Gillard government heavily spruiks the resumption of offshore processing of asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia to the electorate and the media.

A substantial problem for immigration and border control authorities who deal with so-called illegal arrivals is that many people seeking asylum do not arrive with identity documentation on them, making it harder for authorities to determine who they are.

One element of the new biometric system that authorities appear keen to exploit further is the cross-matching of biometric data with other authorities and governments to see whether or not this yields results against a person’s claimed identity.

Biometric systems are now routinely used by military forces operating in theatres including Afghanistan to digitise the physical details of people including refugees, domestic armed forces and police under training and those suspected of insurgent activity.

“It is envisaged that the use of Biometrics by DIAC to manage risk and to deliver service improvements, savings and efficiencies will increase significantly over the coming years,” the tender documents say.

“This may include further development of Biometric alert lists, additional data sharing arrangements with other Australian agencies and international partner organisations and Governments, and an increase in the use of Biometrics to verify Identity at various stages of the Client's dealings with DIAC.”

The tender documents also suggest that Immigration authorities expect biometric processing volumes to increase, noting that “as a volume Business, DIAC will have a particular emphasis on automation and scalability.”

“A real-time or near real-time capability is required to meet time-critical requirements in locations such as airports and busy office counters,” the documents say.

Aside from being speedy, the new system is also expected to have a “Watch List capability to enable generation of alerts and referrals whenever a Biometric match occurs with individuals on a specific DIAC list.”

While biometric watch lists and movement alerts are generally used to pick-up persons of interest ranging from criminal escapees to terrorists, they also have potential utility in detecting instances of child abduction where a parent or person seeking to leave a country may have travel documents or passports issued under a different name from another government.

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