Australia is planning to adopt a new contactless passenger identification system that would eliminate the need for passport scanners, paper landing cards and manned immigration desks, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection has announced.

The new system, which is set to be rolled out by 2020, will use facial recognition technology and fingerprint scanners to identify passengers as they pass through Australian airports. People arriving in the country would no longer be required to show their passports and desks fronted by immigration officers would be replaced by automated electronic stations.

The new process would go beyond the current SmartGate electronic border processing system currently in place at Australian airports, which matches the face of a passenger with the image stored in the microchip of their e-passport.

The government will pilot a version of the system in July at Canberra Airport, which offers limited flights to Singapore and Wellington. It would be introduced at Sydney and Melbourne airports in November, with the rollout hoping to completed by March 2019.


Speaking to Fairfax media, Dr Coyne said the new system would be a "world first" and would enable passengers to "literally just walk out like at a domestic airport".

People arriving in Australia would no longer be required to show their passports. Photo / Getty Images
People arriving in Australia would no longer be required to show their passports. Photo / Getty Images

Biometric technology is advancing rapidly thanks to the large amount of passenger data available, which includes ticket information, travel history and criminal records. Dr Coyne said the future of airport security was all about being able to determine which types of passengers posed a risk and allowing others to go through the process more efficiently.

He claimed Australia was "miles ahead of the majority of countries" in terms of airport technology, including London's Heathrow which he described as "an informed version of the Middle Ages".

The latest development is the most ambitious part of the government's AUD 93.7 million (£57 million) Seamless Traveller five-year initiative, introduced in 2015, which, according to Australia's immigration minister Peter Dutton, will allow for a "fast, seamless self-processing experience and enable border control officers to concentrate on passengers-of-interest".

Earlier this month, the US Customs and Border Protection announced facial recognition software would be used at all international airports in the US, as part of the country's plan to crack down on identity fraud.

New York's JFK Airport began using facial recognition scanners this month, as part of a $10 billion (£8 billion) plan to revamp the airport, while the new software will be used at the Washington Dulles International Airport from February, following a two-month trial in 2015.

This article was originally published in the Telegraph