Home Affairs’ new border processing system uses facial and fingerprint recognition

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday June 4, 2020

The Department of Home Affairs has launched a new biometric system which would allow it to match the facial images and fingerprints of travellers wanting to enter Australia.

The new Enterprise Biometric Identification Services (EBIS) system launched on Wednesday would improve the department’s ability to identify criminals and “persons of national security interest”, according to global IT company Unisys.

The system is based on Unisys’ Stealth (identity) multi-factor identity management and authentication solution — which supports face, finger, iris and voice recognition — and uses French-based company IDEMIA’s facial and fingerprint recognition algorithms.

Unisys won the contract to design and implement such a system in March 2018. It has replaced Home Affairs’ previous biometrics matching system, that was also provided by Unisys and has been in place for the past 12 years.

The companies claim EBIS is “one of the world’s most accurate biometric identity management systems used for visa and border processing”. Home Affairs would use the system to match the facial images and fingerprints of people wanting to travel to Australia, including visa applicants. For citizenship applicants, Unisys noted the system would use facial images.

“The system simultaneously facilitates the processing of legitimate travellers and is designed to support anticipated growth in visa applications, border clearances and applications for citizenship over the next 10 years,” it said.

“In the future, EBIS will provide the capability to quickly flag people who may be crossing the border with fraudulent identities.”

The department has been attempting to establish a national facial recognition database, but proposed laws were rejected last October over concerns that they were highly invasive.

Read more: Victoria sends identity data to national facial recognition system to stay ‘ahead of the pack’

While there was a record annual 9.5 million visitors to Australia last year — 3.9 million more than a decade ago — inbound travel to Australia dropped by 98% when the government closed the borders to temporary visa holders, as part of its COVID-19 response.

Unisys Asia Pacific’s vice president and general manager Rick Mayhew said the volume of travellers would “hopefully return” following the pandemic, “as well as the increased risk of potential terrorist or fraudulent activity”.

“We have worked closely with the department and our partner IDEMIA, the global leader in Augmented Identity, to deliver one of the world’s leading solutions to help protect Australia’s borders and national assets,” he said.

The borders are currently closed for the foreseeable future.

Last month acting immigration minister Alan Tudge launched the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020, which, if passed, would give the Australian Border Force broad new powers.

The laws would ban immigration detainees from having mobile phones if they were suspected of carrying out illegal activity, and would give ABF officers stronger search and seizure powers that could be used in immigration facilities.

Only police officers are currently permitted to search and seize material inside the centres.

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