Customs to keep e-eye on coming and going

New Zealand residents entering or leaving the country may eventually be required to carry digital certificates or submit to biometrics scrutiny.

New Zealand residents entering or leaving the country may eventually be required to carry digital certificates or submit to biometrics scrutiny.

Customs, says finance chief John Kyne, together with immigration and biosecurity agencies, is keeping a keen eye on developments such as certificates or biometrics, in which biological features such as fingerprints or iris scans are used for identification.

At this stage the department is concentrating on enhancing passenger departure and arrival information. Imminent plans for advance electronic collection of departure information at air and sea ports could be followed by that of arrival information within two years, he says.

For the initial departure pilot, to begin next month, participants will probably be required to sign a single identifying document in advance. The question of a signature required on departure and arrival cards is a difficulty in the present legal environment before passage of the Electronic Transactions Bill, Kyne says.

Kyne acknowledges that customs, immigration and biosecurity agencies will face more difficult problems at the arrivals stage of development. Most of the information on departure cards relates to personal identity and itinerary and is already present in other databases with the shipping line or airline and with travel agents. Variable information such as customs and agriculture declarations, now entered by the passenger on an arrival card, will present challenges that will need considerable thought and planning, he says. However, both moves should save the processing time of taking a card off each passenger and scanning it.

Electronic passage of information loses the connection between the card and the physical person holding it, Kyne agrees, but there should be no difficulty in attaching the record to the person who embarks or disembarks. “We have enough information about you already to identify you,” he says.

Electronic arrival processing is “in the back of our mind rather than the front”, Kyne says, but is likely to take off within two years or so.

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