The idea that smartcards will replace passports is years away from being reality, but that hasn't stopped NZ Customs Service chief executive Robin Dare from speculating.
However, Dare isn't only dreaming -- he's introduced an electronic clearance system for containers and has streamlined the customs procedure for the America's Cup crews, who make frequent trips in and out of New Zealand's jurisdiction.
"Once we've identified a group as low risk, why are we applying the same intensive procedure to them? Are there other options we can develop while still maintaining the level of protection government demands of us?" asks Dare, who believes in the idea of using IT to reduce costs for importers, exporters and the Service without compromising the protection Customs offers to the community.
"We're applying risk-management techniques to the business of movement of goods across our border," Dare said. "The question now is: can we apply those same policies to the movement of people, and I believe the answer is yes."
Dare says Customs and its colleagues, Immigration, MAF (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) and Internal Affairs, are still at an early conceptual stage, but he believes an understanding has been reached that the present way of doing things isn't the only way.
"Having a Customs officer standing there undertaking one-on-one contacts with passengers is very labour intensive. Perhaps we can use technology to make that a more efficient process."
Customs has worked closely with Ports of Auckland to develop an electronic solution to the problem of increasing numbers of containers coming into the country.
"We're trying not to rely on client groups, like Ports, coming to us with a problem, but instead trying to develop in our own staff an approach that is probing the boundaries."
Dare says any new development must include a host of cooperating agencies, from within government and without, and naturally takes a fairly long time to bring to fruition.
Containers coming in to the port are rated as to their security risk. Low-risk containers undergo an auditing process rather than the full-on high-risk inspection.
The America's Cup is another example of Customs using IT to "think outside the square".
"We've been working with the Cup syndicates to find ways of managing their border requirements in a way which satisfies our protection needs, but also minimises the cost and disruption to their business."
Dare says Customs has been able to do that by limiting the documentation needed for each entry or exit and by reaching an agreement with each syndicate as to what its requirements would be. "Again, we use audit principles rather than requiring separate documentation for every member."
Dare says that's been received very well, so much so that one syndicate has expressed "amazement" that Customs has been able to achieve so much with minimal intervention. "That's really what we're trying to do."