Data swaps, not people swaps: Morrison wants biometrics shared

The sharing of biometrics data between neighbouring countries will ensure stronger borders for Australia, according to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison

Australia will develop new systems to share biometric data with other nations to validate the identities of people seeking to travel to the country, according to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

Following the 2013 federal election, the new government has implemented "Operation Sovereign Borders" and a number of other programs designed to beef up border protection in the country, and tackle a perceived problem with asylum seekers attempting to arrive by boat into Australia.

Speaking at the Biometrics Institute conference in Sydney today, Morrison said that the government was working to make Australia's borders stronger through the implementation of biometrics technology that make it quicker and easier to verify the identity of people coming in and out of Australia for travel and trade.

"If the Australian public is going to have confidence in how we manage our borders, they need to have confidence in the identity of those coming across our borders," he said.

"That's as true for people smuggling, which this government has had particular success on today, as it is in the trade domain with people with whom we are doing business with.

"The Australian government will support the development of border systems that support smarter, better, and faster management of people movement and trade facilitation, underpinned by the best risk management processes, business models, technologies and people."

Morrison said that the systems would be underpinned and facilitated by biometric data collection and processing technology.

He said that the use of biometric data sharing between nations allows Australia to detect higher risk people before they land in the country.

"Biometrics have revealed clients who have assumed multiple identities in an effort to try and gain a visa when earlier attempts have failed. Biometric matching has also been successful in detecting persons with a national security concern," he said.

Australia already has biometric data sharing agreements in place with New Zealand, UK, US, Canada, and New Zealand he said. Data swapping was an effective way to protect Australia's borders, according to Morrison.

"Our government, when it comes to protecting our borders, is more interested in data swaps than people swaps."

Morrison said he was in discussion with his counterparts in the Asia Pacific region for a more enhanced biometrics data sharing scheme as part of funding that will be allocated from Operation Sovereign Borders.

"This funding is directed towards the development of solutions that use secure internet-based data exchange between partner countries, without reliance on data being stored on the Australian secure server," he said.

"Australia will seek to develop a hub and spoke model where strongly-encrypted data is roted between partners as required."

Morrison said the result will be a "more advanced and cheaper system" than what is in place today.

Locally, he said recent polling showed that Australians were overwhelmingly in favour of handing over more biometric data to the government.

"In the wake of the disappearance of flight MH370, the Australian public has shown a willingness to embrace the potential of biometric technology."

He said Australia's e-passport and smartgate systems "continue to move from strength to strength" with all eight major Australian airports now having the gates installed. More than 25 percent of passengers coming through Australian airports will by 2016 be using the gates, he said.

He said IBM and Morpho have been selected to test out new e-gate technology with live trials set to start in Brisbane airport in July.

Morrison said more help was needed from the biometrics industry to make better technology available to the government.

"Government needs innovative, affordable solutions that are easy to implement, maintain, grow, and integrate," he said.

"I want to stay ahead of the crooks, and I need your help to do that."