October 5, 2006 10:21 AM PDT

Biometric passports reach 2.5 million in U.K.

More that 2.5 million e-passports have been issued in the U.K. since the new biometric documents went into production in March.

The U.K.'s Identity and Passport Service (IPS) has now switched all its production over to the new style of passport, a process that began earlier this year.

IPS executive director for service delivery Bernard Herdan said the design is the "most secure passport ever issued by the U.K."

He said the changeover to e-passports had taken place over a number of months, while the agency also dealt with record levels of demand for passports.

He said: "In combination with enhanced background checks and plans to interview first-time passport applicants from next spring, this new more secure passport will deliver a step-change in our ability to combat passport fraud and forgery."

The agency also pointed out that the switchover to biometric passports means the U.K. has beaten the U.S. visa waiver deadline, so U.K. travelers can still travel visa-free to the U.S.

The new passports include a chip with the holder's facial biometric, with facial recognition software used to check passport applications against a list of known passport fraudsters. But the additional security comes at a cost--passport prices have increased to 66 British pounds ($124), up from 42 ($79) last year.

Immigration controls have also been tightened--immigration officers can carry out "biometric checks" on any passenger who holds a biometric travel document to confirm that they are the rightful owner.

Steve Ranger of Silicon.com reported from London.

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3 comments

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Blurry Photos - Bad for human viewing
The facial features stored on the chip *may* be useful for computer checking - so long as the chip has not become damaged by everyday wear.

But, these facial features will only be a simplified summary of someone's face: Tests of facial recognition technology have produced very poor results.

Also, the photos are printed digitally in these passports: They are often such poor printing quality that they are useless for human identification of the holder.

The rules for the original photos are also causing much grief: The software which "extracts" the facial features from the photos is easily confused: No smiling, no spectacles, image of face must be correct size, no shadows, plain background, etc. etc. Even then, thousands of photos have been rejected.

It's hard to see this as a step forward or see how it will actually improve real "security."
Posted by richard-s (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Blurry Photos - Bad for human viewing
The facial features stored on the chip *may* be useful for computer checking - so long as the chip has not become damaged by everyday wear.

But, these facial features will only be a simplified summary of someone's face: Tests of facial recognition technology have produced very poor results.

Also, the photos are printed digitally in these passports: They are often such poor printing quality that they are useless for human identification of the holder.

The rules for the original photos are also causing much grief: The software which "extracts" the facial features from the photos is easily confused: No smiling, no spectacles, image of face must be correct size, no shadows, plain background, etc. etc. Even then, thousands of photos have been rejected.

It's hard to see this as a step forward or see how it will actually improve real "security."
Posted by richard-s (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
new technology, new concerns
Hopefully these passports are less susceptible to security breaches than the new U.S. passports, <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.iwantmyess.com/?p=80" target="_newWindow">http://www.iwantmyess.com/?p=80</a> which have been criticized by security experts time and time again. The U.K., much like the U.S., is susceptible to terrorist and security attacks and must do everything possible to ensure the safety of their citizens and their personal information.
Posted by ml_ess (71 comments )
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