SmartGate faces toughest challenge

The controversial SmartGate biometric technology introduced by the federal government for processing international travellers at major airports is facing its biggest challenge yet following an expansion of its pilot scheme to include more than 1,000 regular Qantas customers."As at 5 December we have enrolled more than 1,200 platinum frequent flyers," Customs national director for border intelligence and passengers Gail Batman told ZDNet Australia .

The controversial SmartGate biometric technology introduced by the federal government for processing international travellers at major airports is facing its biggest challenge yet following an expansion of its pilot scheme to include more than 1,000 regular Qantas customers.

"As at 5 December we have enrolled more than 1,200 platinum frequent flyers," Customs national director for border intelligence and passengers Gail Batman told ZDNet Australia . "Many of these passengers have already successfully transacted with the system upon their return to Australia from an overseas trip. Expanding the trial beyond aircrew to frequent flyers will assist Customs greatly in the evaluation and further development of the system."

Since November 9, platinum Qantas frequent flyers and passengers with first class tickets have been able to enrol in the SmartGate service at Qantas first class lounges in Melbourne and Sydney. Qantas crews have participated in SmartGate trials since late 2002.

Passengers will be photographed and their details added to the SmartGate database within 24 hours, according to an e-mail sent to prospective users. On returning to Australia, passengers should be automatically identified by the face recognition system -- though some early tests revealed problems with the technology.

The selection of frequent flyers to further pilot the service may help silence one of the most persistent criticisms of the multi-million dollar scheme: that many airline passengers don't fly often enough to justify the investment.

Passengers will be able to sign up for the trial until December 24, unless undisclosed test quotas are reached before that date. Customs is hoping to extend the trials further next year, but that will depend on renewal of funding for the project in July next year.

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