Govt gives Immigration $99m for visa risk system

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Govt gives Immigration $99m for visa risk system

Smart gates rollout nearly done.

The Coalition government has commited $99.2 million to fund an immigration risk system that will detect risky visa applicants before they arrive in the country.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton last night said the system was intended to help weed out criminals and terrorists before they reach Australia's borders. 

The system, to be delivered by the Department of Immigration, will reportedly tap into databases held by the likes of the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Federal Police to identify persons of interest at the visa application stage.

A traditional risk assessment is limited to indicators that an individual plans to overstay their visa or work without clearance.

"Decision makers need to have the tools to take a closer look at a traveller’s broader criminal and security risks," Dutton said.

"They need to know much more about visa applicants and whether they pose a threat to the community."

The $99.2 million was bundled up in other measures funded as part of last week's federal budget.

Dutton said the new capability would work hand in hand with the department's impending shared facial recognition platform and smart gates to tackle identity fraud and better assess risks.

The federal government handed $18.5 million to the Attorney-General's Department late last year to build the national facial biometrics tool, which was first floated by state and federal police ministers and attorneys-general in early 2015.

The facial image matching tool is intended to help Australia's law enforcement better address cross-broder criminal activities and identity fraud .

It will allow agencies to match a facial photograph of a citizen held by one agency to images on passports, visas and drivers licences.

But the plan was criticised by privacy advocates and the ACT government for providing police 'unprecedented and extraordinary' access to the personal information of citizens without proper safeguards.

The criticism spurred the AGD to undertake and publish the results of a preliminary privacy impact assessment, which found no "significant risks or privacy issues in the design" of the tool.

Smart gate rollout almost complete

The rollout of 92 smart gates, manufactured by Vision-Box following an $18 million contract win mid-last year, will be complete "in the coming weeks", Dutton said.

The 92 smart gates have been installed in departure terminals within Australia’s eight international airports. Immigration already has 62 older, Morpho-built smart gates in arrivals halls following a 2007, $53 million agreement that lasts until 2019. 

The gates use facial recognition technology to take a live photograph of an individual's face and match it to an image stored on a chip in the travellers ePassport.

Last month iTnews revealed a quirk with an Immigration database meant travellers with names containing more than 24 characters could not be processed through the Morpho-manufactured arrivals smart gates. 

The department is also in the early stages of developing a new border clearance system, to be delivered by Unisys, that will replace three legacy systems to streamline the processing of travellers. The first stage of the project is due to go live in March next year.

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