Home Affairs purges public details of Australia's airport smartgate upgrade

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Home Affairs purges public details of Australia's airport smartgate upgrade

Confusion over border IT project continues.

The Department of Home Affairs has removed all mention of its multi-million dollar upgrade of airport arrivals smartgates from its website, raising further questions about the future of the troubled border IT project.

Publicly available details about the project were quietly deleted from the border force website late last week, including information on the first - and only - trial of the next generation Vision-Box smartgates since 2017.

Other information to disappear outlined where the new contactless smartgates would replace the department's existing fleet of ageing IDEMIA (Morpho) airport arrivals smartgates following the trial.

The removal of the only publicly available details on the project comes several months after iTnews revealed the Canberra Airport trial and wider rollout of the new smartgates had been paused pending review.

The review was initiated to inform the project's "next steps", including operation of the smartgates at Perth Airport, which were installed in Qantas’ new international wing at Terminal 3 earlier this year but never switched on.

However, before the review was completed in September, Home Affairs had already handed IDEMIA a new $30 million contract to refurbish the same fleet of smartgates in the arrivals halls of Australia’s international airport.

This was despite assurances by the department that “no decisions will be made about the rollout until the review results are known".

At the time, a spokesperson characterised the five-year maintenance and remediation contract as necessary to ensure a “continuous level of service at the border” until a new series of gates was ready for operations.

Since then, however, IDEMIA has revealed that the contract is for effectively for the same work and will see it upgrade existing kiosks and smartgates, as well as provide “trials of a next generation solution”.

Over the past four months multiple sources have told iTnews that the 2017 deal with Vision-Box has faltered and will not progress due to problems with several facial recognition trials over the last 18 months.

However, when asked directly if the Vision-Box contract has been terminated, the department has declined to comment on multiple occasions.

The smartgates, which were originally expected to be deployed last financial year, were to eventually allow travellers to pass through arrivals halls without producing a passport using facial recognition.

They are considered central to the department’s plan to process 90 percent of international travellers through automated means by the end of next year, and will do this by matching individuals against facial images stored in airlines' advanced passenger processing systems.

The smartgates are part of a three-pronged suite of programs under the department’s $94 million seamless traveller initiative, which will also replace the paper-based incoming passenger card and exit marshalling process with automated technology.

No public update on the status of the initiative, which according to AusTender contract notices has now more than doubled in cost, has been provided by Home Affairs since earlier this year.

Home Affairs has been approached for comment.

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