CeBIT 2010: Airports face-up to illegal immigration

Aussie biometric technology can recognise faces in grainy CCTV footage

Airports could soon trial a locally-built facial recognition technology in a move to crack down on illegal immigration, terrorism and crime.

The system can identify an individual from video footage recorded under extremely poor conditions and low resolution.

National ICT Australia (NICTA) Advanced Surveillance project manager, Brian Lovell, said about one person a week in Queensland and two in Sydney will seek asylum in Australia through airports, often by boarding a plane using fake documentation and destroying the papers once they land, making it impossible to determine on which flight they had arrived.

"There is no way of knowing what flight they had come in on," Lovell said, adding each asylum seeker costs the Federal Government about $100,000.

"The system takes a photo, just one still frame, of an individual [as they leave the plane] and match them up when they come through Customs which will make the carriers responsible for returning them under the IATA agreement," Lovell said at CeBIT 2010.

"It returns a shortlist of possible matches that means officers can look through maybe 50 faces instead of hundreds."

The facial recognition system is also being trialled by United Arab Emirates hotels, including the Marriott and the Overoi, to identify criminals or terrorists entering lobbies.

It is also under trial by London police to identify individuals captured by the city's massive CCTV network, a need which formed the inspiration of the project, and could be used in Australia's train networks.

The system can identify a face within seconds in resolutions as low as 12 pixels and from high and acute angles, making it ideal for grainy CCTV footage. The nearest competing facial recognition systems can only spot a face in photographs of minimum quality of 63 pixels and shot under precise conditions.

It also works as a early warning system through biometric cues that alert authorities to suspicious activity.

It began as an academic project in 2000 and "took-off" in 2003 after it received a share of some $3 million, designated to counter-terrorism and protection of critical infrastucture. Lovell negotiating OEM licenses and is operating the trials through a Sydney company.

The Port of Brisbane will install Pan, Tilt and Zoom cameras for asset tracking on its premises and is one of seven project collaborators including Customs and Border protection, Queensland Rail, and Carnegie Mellon University.

Volunteer delegates at the CeBIT 2010 conference were captured and identified in a live demonstration of the system at CeBit 2010, including Lovell wearing sun glasses.

"You can identify Brittany Spears only so many times before you lose interest. We want Osama bin Laden."