2 months ago

E-gate fiasco at airport

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Introduction of any advanced facility to ease service for providers and users requires a feasibility study so that the cost and benefit of the facility can be estimated. Without a proper feasibility scrutiny, introduction of any good facility or service may prove a non-functional or unmanageable thing. Suppose the ultimate objective is to make an exposition of advancement, the service provider needs to be better equipped and prepared to provide the service but in most cases the cart is put before the horse.

This kind of attitude is visible in different sectors of the country. Instead of ensuring efficient services through the advanced infrastructure, it focuses on the display of the infrastructure itself. Thus, the amount spent to build or develop the facility becomes either a misappropriation or a waste of tax money, mainly due to a lack of accountability.

The introduction of the electronic gate or e-gate at three international airports in the country may be an example, at least so far, of an exhibition of the advanced facility. Though the sophisticated infrastructure is necessary to ease the immigration procedure, establishing the e-gates without getting well prepared the system is turned into a fiasco.

E-gate is a fully automated electronic system that uses data stored in a chip in biometric passports or e-passports and a photo and fingerprint taken at the time of entry to verify the passport holder's identity. Usually, a passport holder has to place the data page on an electronic data-reader. Once the data are read and verified electronically, a gate opens for the next step, where the passport holder stands and their photo is being captured. Then, the photo and verified data are matched. If everything is okay, the second gate also opens, and the passport holder can go by completing his or her immigration process electronically.

That is not happening in Bangladesh, although many passengers, especially those who arrive from abroad, want to use the system. Currently, only Bangladeshi citizens having e-passports are eligible to use the e-gates. A firsthand experience showed that even after crossing the e-gate after scanning the passports and capturing the photos, the passengers must place the passports at the immigration desks. The designated officers then put seals of arrivals on the passports. That means the electronic immigration is incomplete. The continuation of manual checking and stamping on passport pages indicates that the e-gate is virtually dysfunctional.

What is silly is the post-checking of the seals put on passport pages. Once the stamping is complete, the arriving passenger should proceed to collect their luggage. Before doing so, another officer in Dhaka airport re-checks the page only to ensure that the stamp is there. All these show that the authorities are yet to entirely rely on the sophisticated system even though introduced by them. They are more comfortable with a half-electronic, half-manual system.

The immigration authorities have their logic also. For the departing passengers, e-gate is not equipped to check the authenticity of visas, so they need manual checking. Again, departing passengers also require departure stamps on passport pages, and the desk officers do that at the counters.

If all these manual checks are necessary to ensure secured immigration, why install e-gates so early? It would be better to wait for the time when the immigration officers and staff are well trained to operate the e-gate. A comprehensive backup system is also necessary to tackle any technical glitch which may occur anytime. Finally, a shift towards a fully automated border control system will take time as many more agencies and things are involved here. Installation and operation of e-gates are part of the overall system.

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