Fed budget targets ID fraud, tsunami warning

Combating identity fraud, protecting the nation's borders and tsunami warning systems were among the areas heavily funded in last night's federal budget.One of the most visible funding allocations was in the area of electronic passports.

Combating identity fraud, protecting the nation's borders and tsunami warning systems were among the areas heavily funded in last night's federal budget.

One of the most visible funding allocations was in the area of electronic passports. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will receive AU$67.5 million over four years to integrate a microchip storing the holder's photograph into all new and replacement passports.

This new 'ePassport', according to a statement from the government, "will ensure Australia's continued participation in the US visa waiver programme" and integrate with the Australian Customs Service's 'SmartGate' self-processing service. The new system -- which has been allocated AU$61.7 million -- will match the face of a traveller presenting themselves at a kiosk with the stored photo - all without the aid of a customs officer.

The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) said in a statement it had also been allocated AU$42.9 million to implement biometric technology to improve identity verification at the nation's borders.

Also on the upgrade list is the Movement Alert List, a database that stores details about the entry and presence in Australia of -- so far -- almost 300,000 non-citizens who DIMIA classes as being 'of character concern'.

DIMIA will get AU$43.9 million to redevelop the list's computer alerts system, create a dedicated centre to operate 24 hours a day, and to improve secure communications between the department's offices and government security agencies like the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

On the other side of the coin, ASIO will get AU$9.6 million to improve its border monitoring activites, including better electronic links with DIMIA.

The budget also confirmed allocation of AU$5.9 million for two previously-announced projects the government says are aimed at combating identity fraud. The Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock's department will pilot an online document checking service which Ruddock has said will allow someone who is accepting a document such as a passport to get in touch with the organisation that issued it.

The second pilot aims to identify false identities and inaccurate records in the Australian Tax Office's database of individual taxpayers. It will initially test a sample of 25,000 taxpayers against records held by a number of government agencies such as the Australian Electoral Commission, Centrelink and the Health Insurance Commission.

Treasurer Peter Costello said in his budget speech a tsunami early warning system costing AU$68.9 million would be developed to warn of tsunami danger on the west or east coasts of Australia or in south-west Pacific nations.

In addition, as part of its electoral commitments to protect children from pedophiles, the government has allocated AU$2 million to Internet safety agency NetAlert to run a training roadshow and information campaign on how to keep kids safe online. The roadshow is due to kick off shortly and will wind up in June next year.

Another minor funding commitment will see Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory get AU$2 million over three years to upgrade its IT infrastructure. That funding will particularly target online education mechanisms which are particularly important given the government says it provides almost 85 percent of all higher education in the territory.