A spokesman for Customs Minister Chris Ellison said on Thursday trials of the Australian-designed Smartgate system had so far proved successful, without causing the lengthy delays that accompanied the introduction of so-called "biometric" screens in US airports this week. 

"It has cut processing time from 45 seconds to 17 seconds, with a 98%  success rate" he told reporters. "We are ahead of the rest of the world as far as biometric systems go and this is a superior system that enhances traffic flow." 

Evaluation

Smartgate has been used to screen Qantas air crews since November 2002, and the spokesman said a decision on broadening its use to the general public could be made as early as next month, when defence scientists are scheduled to complete an evaluation of the system. 

He said the digitally-recorded features would remain unchanged by age and potential disguises such as beards and tinted contact lenses. 

The United States began taking digital photographs and
fingerprints of most arriving foreigners this week, causing long
queues and angering some countries such as Brazil, which has
retaliated by photographing and fingerprinting incoming US
citizens. 

Washington also said 28 countries, including Australia, whose
citizens do not require visas for short-term US visits had until
26 October to begin issuing passports with biometric features. 

Sky marshals

Ellison's office said Australia was confident of meeting the
deadline and planned to issue a passport with a microchip containing a digital photograph of the holder which has been reduced to a computer-friendly algorithm. 

Meanwhile, he said Australian and US officials held talks on
installing armed sky marshals on flights between the two countries. 

He said no final agreement had been made on the marshals, who would be deployed on Qantas flights to the US and United Airlines flights to Australia. 

Australia already has sky marshals on domestic flights and on
flights between Australia and Singapore.