From today, a very different type of passport is being used by some Aussies in a "landmark" trial. But not everyone is happy, writes Kate Schneider of news.com.au
Starting today, some passengers at Australian airports have begun using a vastly different type of passport that is set to transform the way we fly.
Qantas passengers on selected international flights are taking part in a groundbreaking trial of facial recognition programming at Sydney Airport. The new biometrics technology will allow travellers to pass through most stages of the airport experience without a passport or boarding pass.
Instead, their faces will be scanned as they make their way through the automated check-in, baggage drop, lounge access and boarding stages. They will only need to present their documents at immigration.
In the future, the "couch-to-boarding gate" technology will be expanded to include mobile check-in and automated border processing. Essentially, we will eventually be able to kiss our traditional passports goodbye forever.
Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert said the world-leading system will improve the way we travel, making the airport experience faster and easier. But at what cost?
"We're very excited that select Qantas passengers now have the chance to experience this highly sophisticated technology as part of this landmark trial," Mr Culbert said.
"In the future, there will be no more juggling passports and bags at check-in and digging through pockets or smartphones to show your boarding pass — your face will be your passport and your boarding pass at every step of the process."
The new technology will allow passengers to be tracked through the terminal.
Qantas chief customer officer Vanessa Hudson said the airline was focused on increasing the use of technology to drive innovation for customers.
"There is an increasing need for airlines and airports to offer faster and more convenient airport experiences and we're excited to see what results the trial produces," Ms Hudson said.
"Qantas customers will not only be able to check in for their flight using the technology, it is also available for our lounge staff who can create a more personalised experience when passengers arrive."
The airport system was announced last year along with a raft of new counter-terror measures, and was met with criticism around privacy and hacking fears. State premiers signalled their support for the measures, declaring that public safety was more important than civil liberties.
"Notional considerations of civil liberties do not trump the very real threat, the very real threat of terror in our country today," Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said at the time.
"We are going to have to curtail the rights and freedoms of a small number of people in order to keep the vast majority of Australians safe."
What are the problems with facial recognition?
Facial recognition technology is already widely used around the world. The systems typically work by measuring the distances between features such as the eyes, nose and mouth, and running the "facial signature" against a database.
However, the use of the technology in Australia is still being debated. In May, the Human Rights Law Centre outlined four of its "salient" concerns with the use of the technology in its submission to a parliamentary inquiry into the nation's proposed facial recognition regime — of which airports are one piece of the puzzle.
Their concerns are:
• "The very substantial erosion of privacy that would accompany upscaling government capacity to link and share personal information in the ways permitted by the two bills, including the manner in which the proposed regime would sidestep privacy protections available in federal and state law."
• "The breadth of purposes — and entities — that the proposed regime would permit as a lawful foundation for use and sharing of biometric information, encompassing uses for which one may readily understand the need to limit privacy as well as other uses that appear far less pressing."
• "The distinct lack of evidence as to the need for such a broad and permissive regime."
• "The absence of detail as to how the Australian government in fact proposes to regulate the capabilities for which it seeks parliamentary approval."
How the data would be shared and what safeguards are in place are unclear, particularly in light of the country's inconsistent privacy laws.
Passengers taking part in the voluntary trial were approached for their consent, with Qantas the first partner for the trial. Border processing procedures will remain the same.