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US, Australia may share SmartGates

Information sharing experience leads to possible e-passport access for both nations

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Years of experience sharing intelligence data about airline passengers has given the USAand Australia confidence to put the data to work as a queue-buster, after the nations announced they would explore expedited access to immigration services in their respective airports.

The potential new arrangements emerged in a speech by the US Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, in Canberra last week.

In her speech, Napolitano said through “ .. a data-sharing pilot that began in 2006 between Australia, the U.S. and three other countries, we have also enabled better decision-making about who can enter our countries and receive immigration benefits, in the process thwarting “asylum shoppers” and other bad actors seeking to fraudulently obtain refuge in our countries.” She also praised the Passenger Name Record (PNR) data program as having helped to prevent thousands of “individuals with potential ties to terrorism” from entering the US.

The PNR program makes it compulsory for visitors to the USA to notify the nation 72 hours before they board a craft to visit its shores. Napolitano's speech emphasised the care the USA applies to the resulting mountain of data. She went on to state that the data hygiene practices her department have adopted are so benign and open that the travelling public can feel very confident about their personal security even when, as happens with the USA's Global Entry program, travellers offer up considerable amounts of personal data to gain access to an expedited and automated immigration process. That process is welcomed by frequent visitors to the USA, given the the hour-plus queues that are now common at many US airports mean Australians landing on the West Coast now face at least three hour transfer times for onward flights. Before 9/11 two hour transfers were common.

Napolitano went on to say that the US is now so confident in its “give us more data and we'll be nicer to you” regime that “One of the agreements I will sign during my visit here allows us to explore participation by our citizens in each other's expedited traveler programs so that as we take steps to protect our shared transportation networks, we will continue to facilitate travel between our countries, for Americans and Australians alike.”

Australia's expedited traveller scheme sees incoming flyers offered the chance to use a “Smart Gate” automated passport reader, which uses only chipped passports and conducts face recognition. Global Entry offers similar facilities and the exploration will likely aim at ensuring interoperability between the two systems.

Co-incidentally, Australia's government today announced 20 more SmartGates will be installed over the next two years, starting at Sydney and Melbourne airports. ®

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