In a move that straddles the line between creepy and convenient, the Australian government is implementing a plan to replace passport checks with face recognition technology at the country's international airports.
That means heading out of the plane, down a corridor and on your way through the exit without a single interaction with an official agent.
Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection wants most travelers move through the airport automatically without any human involvement by 2020. The initiative, called Seamless Traveller, was first approved in 2015 with a budget of $71 million ($93.7 million Australian dollars).
The plan isn't specific - it just calls for "next generation automated biometric processing at major air and sea ports." Whether that's a facial scan or a combination of biometric scans remains to be seen. No pun intended.
Recently, the government started actively seeking technology that fits the bill, with the goal of piloting a new system this July at Canberra Airport, the Sydney Morning Herald's Michael Koziol reported. If all goes well there, the new biometric system will be introduced at a major airport in the country in November, and a full rollout would happen by March 2019.
Such a "contactless" system would be a world's first, John Coyne, head of border security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told Koziol. Coyne envisions a system that can pull in passenger info including plane ticket data, travel history and criminal records along with the biometric data automatically captured at the airport. The system's analysis would help officials determine which people pose the most risk.
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Although the Australian biometric scanning plan is one of the more ambitious I've seen, other countries are turning to the tech. Here in the United States, pilot projects have been testing facial recognition to help catch fake passports at Washington Dulles International Airport, John F. Kennedy Airport and Orlando International Airport.
Last fall, the historic Chinese tourist town Wuzhen, which requires tickets to visit the attractions, now identifies and admits hotel guests using facial recognition cameras. Each person's face is rapidly checked against a list of registered visitors, allowing those in the database to pass through a turnstile, "New Scientist" reported.
Funneling international travelers through a high-tech corridor that does scans without officials right there seems extreme to me. Do travelers have any choice about participating in biometric scanning, or will it be mandatory? Besides the obvious privacy fears, what happens if there's an error on the back end? And isn't all of this a familiar plotline in dystopian sci-fi flicks?
Near the bottom of my list of concerns is also the prospect of ditching physical passports. Call me nostalgic, but I'm proud of my old one, the one with all the stamps, the one I handed to the first human being to greet me in a foreign land. Taking a selfie isn't the same thing.
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