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Australians accept biometrics at border, says Unisys exec


In an exclusive interview with BiometricUpdate.com, John Kendall, Security Program Manager for Unisys in the Asia-Pacific region, noted that when it comes to enhancing personal security, Australian travelers are willing to use biometrics at the border.

Detailing the findings of a Unisys Security Index Report focused on biometrics in Australia airports, he notes Australians support extending biometrics-based security measures to include verifying passengers boarding aircraft, but do not support retailers using biometrics to make customized retail offers.

“Our research found that three-quarters of Australians are familiar and would accept the use of biometrics for border clearance purposes,” stated Kendall. “This is because the use of auto gates reduces delay time at entry and exit points, thereby increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of border services.”

The Unisys study found that 75 percent of Australians said they are willing to provide biometric information such as a fingerprint or photograph so that an automated boarding gate can confirm their identities when they board a flight. The survey also found 71 percent of Australians said that they would be willing to provide personal biometric data to prove their identities as frequent travelers of low security risk. However, only 33 percent of those surveyed said they were willing to provide biometric information in order to access customized retail offers in an airport. And 63 percent said they were not willing to do so.

According to Kendall, the results clearly demonstrate that Australians are highly discerning when it comes to the use of personal biometric data and are wary if the use is not directly linked to a security-related initiative in the nation’s airports: “While Australians are willing to provide some sensitive personal information in return for the convenience of faster processing through the airport, they are not willing for the same information to be used by retail.”

The study postulates that Australians are not willing to share information with retailers because they have not earned a high level of trust concerning their ability to protect data. The report also notes that shopping convenience is also not seen as a serious enough reason to give up personal biometric data. Unisys believes the issue will gain additional scrutiny as retailers make more use of Big Data analytics to collect, combine, interrogate and use information about their customers.

Kendall notes biometrics are accepted for border security processes by Australians because immigration and customs processing are mandatory and recognized as core security operations which already have systems and processes in place to protect personal data. Indeed, previous studies conducted on behalf of Unisys found that 95 percent of Australians support airport customs or immigration staff using facial recognition to identify passengers on police watch-lists.

Popular support for biometrics is apropos, since Australia’s national government intends to increase its smart gate usage from about 15 percent of passengers to more than 80 per cent, as more foreigners are approved to use the gates. Accordingly, Australia’s Border Force would increasingly be able to use the border gate operations to use “intent analysis”, in order to single out passengers representing a potential security threat.

Kendall also noted in the interview that Australia undertakes broad use of biometrics for its visa application process. Kendall stated that Australia collects face and finger biometrics during the visa application process. He noted the collection of such data could curb “visa shopping” by previous rejected visa applicants intent on committing entrance document and identity fraud.

Kendall noted that the Unisys Security Index is a global study conducted to gauge the attitudes of consumers on a wide-range of security-related issues. Launched globally in October 2007 and conducted bi-annually, it focuses around national, financial, personal and Internet security. The survey was conducted in Australia by market research firm Newspoll and will be conducted again this year.

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