Smile, you’re on Canberra camera

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The Federal government is about to embark on a major new border surveillance project that will see video footage of suspect activities, such as drug or people smuggling, beamed live to Canberra.

The project is part of a four year, $176 million funding boost to the Australian Customs Service's Coastwatch division.

The new system will see land, sea and air operations linked via the Inmarsat network. The system will use Inmarsat's Swift 64 service, which offers 64kbit per second IP or ISDN satellite links for aircraft.

The video system is believed to be good enough to make identification of individuals on small ships possible. The information will be available to the National Surveillance Centre in Canberra for threat assessment.

The Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison, is expected to launch the project within the next three weeks, a spokesperson for Customs confirmed.

The system will allow video from aircraft to be transmitted live for the first time and is in the final stages of installation.

"We expect to have two Coastwatch Dash 8 planes fitted with the technology before the end of the year, rolling out progressively across the rest of the fleet," the spokesperson said.

The system will eventually be fitted to Coastwatch's five De Havilland Dash 8 aircraft.

However, the system will not be used in conjunction with the high frequency surface wave radar system being developed for use by Coastwatch vessels as an offshoot of the Jindalee over-the-horizon-radar project.

The project is being handled by existing Coastwatch aviation contractor Surveillance Australia, as part of an ongoing agreement. Surveillance Australia has brought Sydney-based satellite specialist TC Communications on board to provide the satellite equipment and expertise, including helpdesk functions.

According to the Coastwatch website, "the Inmarsat satellite system will allow reliable, high-speed transmission of data and imagery between fitted surveillance aircraft, the Coastwatch National Surveillance Centre, the Department of Defence and client agencies. This capability will support the National Surveillance Centre and mobile command centres in their analysis of situations and operational decision-making".

The system will also eventually allow exchange of information between operations including aircraft, ships at sea and small mobile ground operations, allowing faster and more accurate responses to sightings.

"Many other forms of technology, including unmanned aerial vehicles, remain under active consideration," according to Coastwatch.


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