Why SmartGate Sometimes Goes Wrong

Why SmartGate Sometimes Goes Wrong

The SmartGate customs processing system generally works well and millions of us use it, but it isn’t perfect. An analysis by the Australian National Audit Office notes that around eight per cent of people who use the gates end up having to see an officer anyway. What goes wrong?

Picture by Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

According to the ANAO report, the big problem is (unsurprisingly) facial recognition:

There is a gap between the rates of SmartGate presentation and clearance, sitting consistently at around eight percentage points. The difference in the rates represents those passengers who present to SmartGate but are ‘rejected’ and referred to the manual ECP. Reducing the number of unnecessary referrals converts directly into increased clearances. Over half these referrals are caused by face recognition failure, of which a significant proportion are false failures. Many of these are caused by the way passengers present themselves to the cameras at the SmartGate.

SmartGate usage rates are high — 1.81 million people used the service in 2010-2011 — but this was below predicted levels when the system was introduced. Much of this is because SmartGate deployment is currently the responsibility of individual airports; a national strategy for deploying the system has only just been developed. All things considered though, I’d take a 10 per cent failure rate over standing in a queue any day of the week.



  • I actually find the failure useful. My passport is old and i looked significantly different so i always fail the facial recognition. However if you fail you get directed straight to the front of the queue and processed very quickly. I’ve actually ‘beaten’ people i’m travelling with who have successfully used Smartgate, as the system takes longer to process a successful recognition than reject one.

  • I love the smartgate system – but coming through OOL (Gold Coast) yesterday exposed a gap in the system that could be refined to speed up clearance.

    Generally you stand behind a line and wait for the person in front to clear before presenting at the machine – but most people do not move forward until the gates have closed behind the person who just cleared – I think a green light to notify the next person to proceed would speed things up.

    It may only save 5 seconds per presentation, but multiply that by the number of people each day and there is a definite opportunity for improvement.

    fwiw: I am also pissed off by people that don’t have their cash/cards ready for payment by the time a supermarket cashier has totaled their purchase and I have to stand and wait while they dig around in a seemingly bottomless handbag.

  • Smartgate is great, it’s never taken me more than five minutes to clear immigration at Perth Airport. The I wait for an hour before the luggage carousel starts.

  • the system falls down also if you’ve been to a country that requires you to have a vaccination for yellow fever. you would think that this information could have been added to your profile for future reference.

  • I’m almost always in that 8%, I get told various reasons as to why this may be – at Christchurch airport it was due to a large lit up sign for the Antarctic Centre shining on everyone’s faces, not sure if it’s still there. As Michael says though, it’s a great way to get straight to the front of the line to deal with an officer instead, so I continue to use it.

  • 8% false reads means 92% of 1.81 million people out of queues. Surely thats a good thing.
    I’m waiting for my passport to expire so i can get a new passport that allows me to go through smart gate.
    And that is probably the reason why it’s still under utilised. People just don’t have the new passports yet.

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