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Tom Worthington With Tom Worthington FACS, Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

Biometric identifier for the Australian passport, 15 May 2002

The 2002/3 Federal Budget included $3M for research and development of a biometric identifier for the Australian passport:

The Government will provide funding of $3 million for research into a biometric identifier for the Australian passport. The introduction of a biometric identifier has the capacity to strengthen border protection through more robust identity verification processes and to reduce the risk of fraud.

From: Part II: Expense measures, Budget 2002-3

The Budget didn't give details, but a media report suggests:

BIOMETRIC technology to compare people's faces with their passport photographs will be trialled under Budget measures aimed at reducing the risk of terrorist attacks... Initially, the identifier would be used to scan millions of existing passport photographs stored in Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade files. According to government officials, the identifier uses digital technology to match each photograph by recording the distinctive characteristics of the passport-holder's face. When a person applies for a new passport, the identifier compares the features of the stored photograph with the applicant's face to ensure the application is legitimate. "Even if the photograph is 10 years old, and the person has since gone bald or grown a beard, the biometric identifier is capable of making a positive match," an official told The Australian.

From: Biometric passports planned, Matt Price, The Australian, MAY 15, 2002

This may have been prompted by the USA:

If legislation before Congress in the United States is passed, by 2003, Australians will be required to have a biometric in their passport to enter the US, according to an Australian Customs Service representative. The move is part of an increased focus, since the terrorist attacks of September 11, on the need to improve identification procedures at airports both in Australia and other countries.

From: US push for biometric in Australian passports By Rachel Lebihan, ZDNet Australia 22 March 2002

An US ex-Military expert in Biometric Technology visited Canberra in March:

Title Bridging the Gap between Research and Business Applications for Biometric Technology

Speaker Mr. Ed Schaffner

Date Tuesday, 26st March 2002 ...

Abstract Their have been number of new products emerging in the area of biometrics recently and a heightened interest in their application to US Homeland Defense and other business cases. This presentation will provide an overview of US Homeland Defense Challenges...

Mr. Schaffner has over 15 years experience in leading development, integration, and information security programs spanning command and control, transportation, and information systems domains that support the Departments of Defense, Treasury, Agriculture, the General Services Administration, and the National Security Agency...

From: UNSW-ADFA Computer Science School Seminar, Australian Defence Force Academy, 2002

What it is

While the word "biometrics" sounds very new and "high-tech", it stands for a very old and simple concept: human recognition. In technical terms, biometrics is the automated technique of measuring a physical characteristic or personal trait of an individual and comparing that characteristic or trait to a database for purposes of recognizing that individual.

Examples of physical characteristics used in biometrics include:

Examples of personal traits used in biometrics include:

From: Introduction to Biometrics, Department of Computer Science, University of Saskatchewan


Thanks to Eric Scheid, Managing Director, Ironclad Networks.

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Copyright Tom Worthington 2001-2002.