Cutting-edge DFAT biometrics in your passport

By Ji-Soo Woo, Australian Passport Office Communications Unit

Few Australians appreciate just how advanced and secure their passports really are.

DFAT’s pioneering use of face biometrics is a big part of the story.

When an individual applies for a passport, we check the photo against our database of more than 27 million facial images from past applications. This helps us make sure the individual hasn’t applied previously with a different, undisclosed identity.

We also compare the photo with those from the individual’s previous applications to ensure it’s the same person.

In 2004, we were one of the world’s first passport authorities to integrate biometrics into passport processing. Our face biometric checks are still among the world’s most thorough.

Face comparison algorithms can spot anomalies humans would miss. We fund research by the Defence Science and Technology Group that helps us to optimise results. But when making decisions that might affect clients adversely – such as decisions to refuse a passport – we don’t rely on software alone. Our algorithms find discrepancies; our people resolve them.

Our staff are as innovative as our technology. We have worked together with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) on ground-breaking research into how humans recognise unfamiliar faces.

One of the insights from the research is that face comparison is an innate skill, and some people are incapable of it, even with training. We apply this knowledge by requiring everyone who joins our passport processing staff to pass a basic face comparison aptitude test designed by UNSW.

DFAT is a trailblazer in this field. We are one of the first organisations anywhere to test the aptitude of staff performing facial comparison tasks.

For difficult cases, we employ face comparison specialists with especially high aptitude.

The care we take to ensure identities are correct boosts the respect that Australian passports enjoy overseas. It also opens up new ways for Australians to use their travel documents at home.

DFAT is a key participant in Australia’s new Face Verification Service. The service will help Australians verify their identity conveniently and securely, when they need to, for online and other transactions that require a high degree of trust. People will provide passport, citizenship, visa or driver licence details and a photo of themselves. The service will confirm that the documents are valid, and that they match the identity of the person claiming to hold them.

This all makes a strong Australian passport with cutting-edge biometrics more valuable than ever for asserting and protecting your identity.


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