Australian Government - Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

To protect Australia's borders and foster lawful trade and travel.


Why was SmartGate developed?

Customs processing

Customs clearance for travellers arriving in, or departing from, Australia is being continually refined. Refinements aim to provide border processing that is as simple and secure as possible. This aim exists in an environment where the number of travellers is rapidly growing and there are greater processing peaks due to larger aircraft.

Projected increases in traveller numbers indicated Customs and Border Protection would experience space restrictions at some airports if current clearance methods continued. Other processing methods have been studied for their potential to replace, improve or supplement existing processes.

SmartGate prototype

Traveller given the green lightCustoms and Border Protection uses a wide range of highly sophisticated technology in its everyday business. Biometric technology is another tool that will assist Customs and Border Protection in managing the integrity of the Australian border. In 2001 a request for information (RFI) sought industry assistance with the selection of an appropriate biometric identifier for border processing. The RFI also sought to identify Australian industry capability in these areas.

The RFI identified that there was not an existing face recognition system that was ready for use in a border-control environment. Customs and Border Protection decided to build upon existing technology and to pursue face recognition which was not only accurate but also the least intrusive biometric for public use. Face recognition can be used by everyone and can also be independently checked by Customs and Border Protection officers.

Customs and Border Protection, with assistance from the Biometric Institute, tested face recognition products including technology from a German company, Cognitec Systems. Cognitec's FaceVACS software represented the most suitable solution, as it was the only one to meet Customs and Border Protection specific requirements.

By May 2002 testing had been completed. Customs and Border Protection, with help from technology partners, designed and built a system for automated border crossing and a prototype transaction point. The prototype was named "SmartGate".


SmartGate trial 2002 - 2005

Qantas crew

Since Customs and Border Protection had already tested face recognition technology and simulated live transactions, it was time to conduct a user trial. Qantas aircrew were chosen as the trial user group because they were frequent international travellers. The proposal for a trial was met with enthusiastic support from Qantas management and aircrew. 

On 26 November 2002 the trial of SmartGate was launched, with a transaction point installed at Sydney International Airport. Volunteering Qantas aircrew were required to enrol in the trial so that their facial images could be matched to their live images when they used the transaction point. SmartGate was quickly accepted as the preferred alternative to manual processing.

Evaluating the trial

As the trial progressed Customs and Border Protection made improvements to the SmartGate transaction point, the software interface and user interaction. A formal evaluation of the trial was conducted to study the system's accuracy, efficiency and effectiveness. A committee directed the evaluation, which consisted of data analysis by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, an ergonomics study by ACTSafe Australia and a user satisfaction survey conducted by ACNielsen.

Two international biometrics experts, Dr Jim Wayman and Dr Tony Mansfield, provided expertise on the evaluation. They reported that the trial has:

"...produced the predicted strategic benefits. The performance levels attained by SmartGate are remarkably good for an operational facial recognition system and we know of no other such system with documented performance at this level. We find that SmartGate has streamlined the immigration process for the Qantas crew volunteering for the program, while maintaining the integrity of the Australian border. The participating Qantas crew have shown strong preference for the new system."

Further development

Customs and Border Protection engaged a strategic partner to help develop the SmartGate concept into a production system. In late 2003, proposals were invited from Commonwealth Endorsed Suppliers. Customs and Border Protection received and evaluated 12 proposals, which resulted in the selection of SAGEM Australasia.

On 25 May 2004 Customs and Border Protection signed a Head Agreement with SAGEM that will be in place until 30 June 2008. The Head Agreement was prepared in accordance with Commonwealth Endorsed Supplier Arrangements and a developed version of the standard contract, GITC4.


SmartGate trial extension

The provision of $3.1 million to Customs and Border Protection in the 2004-05 Budget allowed for further research and development of automated border control. The funding enabled Customs and Border Protection, with the assistance of its strategic partner Morpho (formerly known as SAGEM Australasia), to extend the trial to a second international airport and to holders of prototype Australian biometric passports and selected passengers.

Customs and Border Protection completed its first commitment by installing a second SmartGate kiosk at Melbourne International Airport 13 September 2004.

A passenger interface was incorporated into SmartGate on 8 November 2004 allowing selected Qantas Frequent Flyers to enrol and participate in the trial.

On 13 December 2004 a passport chip reader was incorporated into a new SmartGate kiosk. This allowed SmartGate to use the facial image stored on the smart chip in the prototype Australian ePassports for matching with the person presenting at the SmartGate kiosk. The prototype ePassport was being trialed by Passports Australia with selected Qantas aircrew.

The trial was completed in June 2005.

New SmartGate

In the 2005-06 Budget, Customs and Border Protection received funding over four years towards the phased introduction of the new SmartGate into Australia's international airports.

The new SmartGate is the production version of SmartGate that is being rolled out from 2007. This version was developed as a two-step model involving a kiosk and a gate. This kiosk checks that a traveller is eligible to self-process and the gate performs the identity check and clearance.

This two-step model provides extra flexibility and capacity for Customs and Border Protection, particularly in relation to queue management.  Kiosks can be located at points prior to passport control, or even overseas, to minimise the impact on queuing space in the airport arrivals hall. It also provides travellers with more processing points.

Trans-Tasman Trial

Customs and Border Protection and New Zealand Customs Service have successfully completed a 12 month trial of a new integrated SmartGate solution. The trial is the first of its kind in the world and was designed to streamline self processing at passport control by giving some travellers the option to complete part of the Australian arrivals process in New Zealand.

The integrated New Zealand to Australia SmartGate solution enabled eligible travellers to bypass the Australian SmartGate kiosk and go straight to the gate if they used SmartGate when departing from New Zealand. The Trans-Tasman trial was conducted at Gold Coast Airport from July 2011 to June 2012. It has provided critical information that will inform future enhancements to SmartGate, and allow Customs and Border Protection to deliver an even more efficient and effective self processing solution.