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Five million faces

25 February 2013

Five million faces

SmartGate, Customs’ automated passenger processing system, reached a new milestone of over five million users today.

Deputy Comptroller Robert Lake says SmartGate, which was introduced at airports in December 2009, has become increasingly popular, with over 65 percent of those eligible now using SmartGate to go through passport control faster.

“This technology improves border security by allowing Customs to focus on more high-risk travellers and it has allowed more accurate and faster passenger processing,” says Mr Lake.

SmartGate uses advanced facial recognition software to compare a person’s face with the digital photo in their ePassport chip through biometric identification, which uses algorithms to identify people.

“Precise and complex measurements of unique facial features provide one of the most accurate and secure means of identification,” says Mr Lake. “Your face is like a fingerprint.”

In October 2012, Customs audited SmartGate to assess the effectiveness of the facial recognition technology. A manual review of three months of arrival and departure data confirmed that SmartGate’s performance is well within the established levels of risk, and identified only three false acceptances out of 698,000 passengers processed during that time.

“In all three instances the passengers were detected and stopped by Customs officers before leaving the secure area, and none were a deliberate attempt to get through. None of the passengers involved were a risk to the border,” says Mr Lake.

Customs is looking at improving the SmartGate experience on departure by removing the need for passengers to get a ticket at a kiosk first, making it a one-step process. The next generation SmartGate Plus, which scans passports at the gate, will be trialled later this year.

The New Zealand Customs Service is the government organisation that protects the community from potential risks arising from international trade and travel, while facilitating the legitimate movement of people and goods across the border. Established in 1840, it is New Zealand’s oldest government agency.

As New Zealand's gatekeepers our role includes intercepting contraband (such as illegal drugs); checking travellers and their baggage cargo and mail; protecting businesses against illegal trade; and assessing and collecting Customs duties, excise, and goods and services tax on imports. We use intelligence and risk assessment to target physical checks of containers, vessels or travellers. As a law enforcement agency we conduct investigations and audits, and prosecute offenders.

Customs works closely with other border agencies, in particular the Ministry for Primary Industries and Immigration New Zealand.

More information about Customs can be found on our website:


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