Statewatch News Online: Home Office statement on UK "biometric" passports

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Home Office statement on UK "biometric" passports

A Home Office press statement on 24 March set out the next stages of so-called "biometric ePassports".

The first stage "from the end of this year" (2005) will mean that new passports (first-time, lost or stolen) "will include a chip containing a scanned image of the holder’s unique facial features" - which expressed in lay terms mean that the normal passport photo, supplied with a postal application, will be scanned and the image placed on a "chip". This is not a biometric. It is all that is required under the ICAO agreed standard (International Civil Aviation Organisation). It does not require a person to physically present themselves at a "processing centre" for "enrolment" (the compulsory taking of fingerprints and a scanned image of a person's face locating up to 1,840 unique features).

It now appears according to the press release that the process of people having to present themselves in person at a centre - in time in their millions each year - is to start "from late 2006" and then only for "all first time adult passport applicants" - that is, young people reaching the age of 18. This is euphemistically termed "face to face interviews" ("Authentication by Interview", in addition to finger-printing and "facial recognition" image a person will have to prove they are who they say they are).

The move from the long-standing application by post to everyone who wants a new passport (or to replace a lost or stolen one) having to present themselves to be "enrolled" is clearly not going to happen before 2007 at the earliest - and then will take up to 10 years for everyone to have a biometric passport.

1. The UK Passport Service 10 year plan (link)
2. An analysis of the plan by Privacy International - especially on how it relates to proposed ID Cards.

Home Office press release


Reference: UKPS001/2005 - Date: 24 Mar 2005 10:31

Key steps towards strengthening identity authentication of passport applicants were set out today as the UK Passport Service (UKPS) published its Corporate and Business Plans 2005-2010.

The five-year Corporate and Business Plans set out the agency’s priorities from now until 2010, as it drives forward work to tackle identity fraud by continuing to strengthen the integrity of the UK passport, deliver continued high standards of customer service, and build towards the planned national identity cards scheme.

Key to this work will be the introduction from the end of this year of biometric ‘ePassports’, which will include a chip containing a scanned image of the holder’s unique facial features, and bringing in face to face interviews for all first-time adult passport applicants from late 2006.

These changes come at a time of emerging global standards in the security of travel documents, with most western nations implementing measures to make passports more secure. The strengthened UK system will contribute to international security and law enforcement, as well as ensuring that UK citizens can travel easily around the world. They will also lay the foundations for the Government’s planned identity cards scheme - the legislation to enable the scheme is currently before Parliament.

Welcoming the publication of the plans, Home Office Minister Des Browne said:

“The UKPS plans set out how the agency will make British passports even more secure and how it will continue to provide a first-rate service to the public. This programme of work will significantly improve the integrity of the UK passport, helping to tackle fraud and ensuring that the UK remains at the forefront of the international drive to improve document security.

”These changes will also lay the foundations for the Government’s proposed national identity cards scheme – which would help tackle identity fraud, organised crime, illegal immigration, and terrorism, as well as making it easier for UK citizens to travel and to carry out everyday transactions securely and conveniently. The UKPS would be a key part of the new Home Office agency that would be established to run the scheme.”

The Plans build on successful measures such as the introduction of the secure delivery of passports and the launch of the ‘lost, stolen and recovered’ passport database, which links information on lost and stolen passports with law enforcement and border posts through some 181 Interpol centres worldwide.

UKPS Chief Executive Bernard Herdan said:

“The UK Passport Service’s Integrated Change Programme will put in place key building blocks for the identity cards programme, at the same time as delivering major improvements in the passport issuing process and the document itself.

“Our vision remains focused on stronger identity authentication to continue to provide even better customer service by safeguarding our customers’ identities and reflecting our intended future role in the Government’s identity cards scheme.

“The programme of change we have now embarked upon is one of opportunity and significant challenge. Working with our staff and partners, we will pursue our ambitious change programme while at all times striving to deliver excellence in service to our customers.”

Last year the UKPS issued a record number of passports – more than six million. It continues to monitor its service closely to ensure that excellent standards of customer care are maintained at a time when forecast demand for passports is set to rise – to potentially nearly seven million applications in 2005-06.

While working to meet these challenges, the UKPS is earning recognition for delivering high levels of efficiency and customer satisfaction. The UKPS was the only UK organisation nominated for the prestigious international Carl Bertelsmann award for public sector efficiency in 2004, and is now a five times Charter Mark winner. In addition, UKPS has been recognised for its ‘outstanding customer satisfaction’ scores and placed first in an independent survey from market research agency, FDS International. FDS benchmarks customer satisfaction across more than 30 major private and public sector organisations and has placed the UKPS in the top spot.

The UKPS has a lead role in the fight on identity fraud, one of Britain’s fastest growing crimes. Identity crime costs the UK £1.3 billion a year, facilitates other crimes such as terrorism, illegal immigration and organised crime, and creates personal misery as well as major expense and inconvenience. It can take some victims up to 300 hours to put their records and their lives straight.

Notes to Editors

1. The UK Passport Service Corporate and Business Plans 2005-2010 are available from

2. Passport information and information about the UKPS is available from, and from the Passport Adviceline on 0870 5210410.

3. Legislation to set up the Government’s proposed national identity cards scheme, the Identity Cards Bill, was published on 29 November 2004 (Home Office Press release 274/2004).The Bill passed its second reading in the House of Lords on 21 March 2005.

Published: 24 Mar 2005

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