Automated Border Control: Facilitation vs Security?

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SmartGate Demonstration: Having been introduced to Brisbane Airport in 2007, SmartGate is now available in seven Australian airports, as well as New Zealand’s Auckland Airport departures.

Increased adoption of e-Passports and biometric-based security solutions have led to a sharp rise in the number of e-Gates that have been deployed at border entry points around the world.

While the implementation of e-Gates allows for the expedited processing of passengers and a more tactical deployment of border control agents, questions have inevitably been raised surrounding the related security issues.

In the UK, for instance, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) recently launched an investigation into an incident, which saw a passenger pass through the facial recognition e-Gates at Manchester Airport having inadvertently swapped passports with their travelling companion. Despite this lapse, however, the UKBA explained that “there was no breach of the Border and that the technology performed correctly”, and the passengers were stopped by a supervising immigration officer.

A total of 55 facial recognition e-Gates are currently being tested at 13 terminals throughout the UK, while they will soon be deployed in Heathrow Terminal 3 and Gatwick Airport’s South Terminal.

“The systems are in a trial stage and have been evaluated,” said Brodie Clark, Head of Border Force for the UK Border Agency. “Although the evaluation is still going through the approval stage, indications are that the technology works in a border control context alongside the conventional manual control.”

While the e-Gates are “proven to be as effective at facial matching as a human is”, Clark explained that they should not be viewed as “infallible”.

He said: “They are one of a number of systems that we can use to support frontline operations. It should be noted that no system of checking, including using trained officers, can be 100% foolproof, and so the gates are always supervised by a Border Officer when they are in operation. This combination of technology and experienced officer produces a fast and secure alternative to the conventional manual control.”


Australia is one of the pioneers of the e-Gate, having introduced the SmartGate, which utilises the e-Passport alongside facial recognition biometrics, back in 2007. The e-Gates are currently in place at seven Australian airports, as well as Auckland Airport departures, and can be used by Australian and New Zealand e-Passport holders aged 18 or over.

Terry Wall, National Manager, Passenger Operations, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, explained: “The use of biometrics has improved the existing standards of border protection and enabled Customs and Border Protection to streamline its procedures to securely process more travellers in a shorter space of time.

“Extensive user acceptance testing was undertaken throughout every stage of the project to ensure the system met the Australian Government’s high expectation of border integrity management. The SmartGate system is set to appropriate thresholds to ensure all travellers are subject to risk assessment at the Australian border.”

Although Wall recognised that there will always be “inherent risks” in the use of technology for border processing, he explained that “a number of risk mitigation strategies” are in place to secure SmartGate.

Due to the success of the initiative to date, the SmartGate Program is currently developing SmartGate Integration to further streamline travel between Australia and New Zealand and to enable the first steps of international passenger processing to occur in the country of departure.

Intelligence-led e-Gates


Recognising the demand for seamless and secure automated border processing, ARINC has recently developed the Border Management System (ABMS) to enable Border Agencies to manage security risks and facilitate the flow of passengers through airports and other border checkpoints. The system provides border agents with a useable flow of information, including data from passports, visas, watch lists, Passenger Name Record (PNR), Advanced Passenger Information (API), and so on.

According to Ray Batt, Director Government and Security, ARINC EMEA, this intelligence-led approach is vital to optimising both security and facilitation.

“Intelligence-led is key,” he explained. “Rather than being reactive, it creates governments and border control agencies that are pro-active. It’s all about extending the border. For instance, API is interactive and it allows the departure airport to transfer the information to the destination country. This information can be transferred in real-time, allowing for real-time risk assessment so that the destination country will be aware if a passenger has been flagged up on a watch list, database, or any other list.

“This allows the border control agencies to make informed decisions about how to process or intercept the passenger because the last thing they want to do is inconvenience the honest, legitimate passengers,” he said.

Referring to the suggestions that automated border control could compromise overall border security, Batt concluded: “With any e-Gate, where there might be a false acceptance or rejection, there is always an agent on hand to cut in so I would say that there is no risk to border security.”


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  1. Vladimir Kaplun

    I can not understand what all this face recognition struggle is for when it could be replaced with PalmSecure which accuracy is far beyond. It is much easier to encode the veins into the Chip rather than face and the scanner is cheaper in times. And no fake indeed.