Immigration Under Fire On Biometrics

Immigration under fire on biometrics

Mahesh Sharma
Australian IT
April 15, 2008

THE Department of Immigration and Citizenship has defended its biometrics project following an Auditor General's report that said it was behind schedule and without proper cost-benefit analysis.

An Australian National Audit Office report released in February made several recommendations for the department's biometrics system, and identity branch assistant secretary Jannette Haughton said it had accepted these and the project was on track to use up its $42.8 million budget.

The department's biometric project ties the identity services repository database to the facial recognition and fingerprint systems being introduced across its detention centres.

Ms Haughton said it would roll out the biometric systems to more business lines over the next 18 months.

One of the report's biggest criticisms was that the department landed a $6.65 million windfall, as it hadn't properly managed the increase in the visa application charge, aimed at offsetting the project's set-up costs.

Ms Haughton said the department's support costs increased in step with the number of applications.

“Essentially, the windfall gain went to consolidated revenue, but we had an increase in costs anyway through the additional applications,” she said.

The report also identified a need for the department to develop a more meaningful cost-benefit analysis, and Ms Haughton conceded the department was lagging on this. “We are strengthening our work in that area. Cost benefit work had been done, but it's obviously building on that initial base and refining what's going in with the process.

“We'll be introducing something over the next six months.

“We're in the investigation stage and about to release the framework for it. I can't predict exactly what it will look like at this stage because we're still investigating our options.”

The report also discusses at length the need for the department to broaden its biometric capability beyond facial recognition and fingerprinting, so it can better integrate with similar systems domestically and internationally.

Ms Haughton said the department had experimented with other biometrics such as iris recognition, but there were no immediate plans to introduce these.

“This depends on the business process for the biometrics we use in the future and what other countries are doing, so both our systems are interoperable.”

Ms Haughton said the department designed its biometrics system with flexibility so it could easily be changed in the future in line with new regulations or increased demand.

“We built into the back-end processes a bit of the legislative framework so all of that is modular and can be adjusted based on what happens internationally with biometrics.

“I wouldn't like to predict how it will increase but if you look at similar databases in other countries, such as the (US) Department of Homeland Security and the British visa database of fingerprints and facial images, they're running into the tens of millions.”