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Hot and bothered at the border

Hot and bothered at the border

Thermal imaging could be used to spot those in a sweat before customs

Thermal imaging scanners and software could be used to identify travellers who become agitated on the approach to airport customs, Immigration and Border Protection CIO Randall Brugeaud indicated yesterday.

Although the technology had been available for some time, "it hasn't been applied in a border clearance context where you're able to determine if somebody has an abnormally high temperature and then that may lead you to believe that they may be...nervous about what they're about to agree to," Brugeaud told fellow CIOs yesterday at the Gartner Symposium on the Gold Coast.

The technology will also be used for border protection officials to better target people showing symptoms of illness when they arrive into the country.

The scanners are one of a "combination of technologies that we'll be leveraging as part of our programme and attempting to leapfrog where we are now," Brugeaud said.

Thermal imaging scanners were used in Australian airports in 2009, deployed by the Department of Health and operated by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service in response to the threat of swine flu arriving into the country. However, the technology has not been used to pick out arrivals that show signs of nervousness, or handled by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

The veracity of the technique to detect nervousness has been questioned. A 2010 study which scanned 51 passengers while being questioned at an undisclosed international airport concluded that it was doubtful thermal imaging would effectively improve airport security.

Warmelink et al wrote in the journal, Law and Human Behavior that it would "classify too many non-deceptive passengers as liars because they may be anxious for non-deceptive reasons...The assumption that liars are more nervous than truth-tellers is incorrect."

Leapfrog security

The initiative is part of a broader modernisation effort by Department of Immigration and Border Protection which absorbed the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service in July last year.

Other initiatives include biometric matching and human recognition technologies that track travellers through the airport, and pre-registration via a mobile app or kiosk so health and customs declarations can be submitted digitally.

The ambition, Brugeaud said, was to "become the world leader again".

"We've started to fall behind other countries," he explained, noting the continued use of Morpho SmartGates which were implemented nearly a decade ago. "What we're doing now is building a programme that will allow us to leapfrog most other countries globally."

That's being done alongside a major integration between the two merged agencies, bringing together two "disparate" technology sets featuring "virtually all of the big players", Brugeaud said.

George Nott travelled to Gartner Symposium as a guest of Gartner.

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