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?
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.