The Identity and Passport Service is opening 69 new local offices, starting later this year, to meet in person and interview first-time passport applicants. Interviews are intended to deter and detect fraudulent passport applications.
We are told that the seductively named enrolment centres are, inter alia, essential to meet International Civil Aviation Organisation biometric passport requirements, but surely they could be met without the need for imposed attendance by digitising existing normal passport photographs. Is there not a risk that far from being the centrepiece of efforts to combat terrorism, illegal immigration, identity theft and benefit fraud, the centres could eventually help to create a hackable electronic leviathan containing 60 million detailed dossiers that could prove irresistible to international gangs of counterfeiters?
The majority of attempted frauds that are detected at present involve first-time adult applicants for passports. It is thus important that we take appropriate measures now to tackle that identity fraud. Although it might be a little inconvenient, asking people to travel something like 20 miles to a 20-minute interview to protect their identity is reasonable—it is certainly seen as reasonable in all our research.
My hon. Friend will know that as we move forward into 2009, we will, further to protect people’s identities, have to introduce the fingerprint biometric on the passport to ensure that our passports do not become second-class documents. Having 69 locations at which people can easily enrol their biometrics and have their biographical interview will thus make a big difference to how straightforward people will find the process and will enable us to protect people’s identities, which is seen as reasonable by the majority of people in this country.