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Passports: Biometrics

Volume 497: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what evidence his Department used to evaluate the effectiveness of e-passports on (a) security and (b) efficiency of border immigration arrangements; and if he will make a statement. (291313)

[holding answer 16 September 2009]: The introduction by the UK of the e-passport containing the holder’s personal details and facial image on a contactless chip was part of a major international drive to make travel documents more secure. The UK e-passport’s physical and electronic security features are a significant impediment to forgers and counterfeiters. The UK e-passport is recognised as a high integrity document, and there is no evidence that anyone has modified or changed the data within the chip on the e-passport in a way that would pass through the checks made at UK border control.

In terms of security, if the UK had not introduced the e-passport then there was a risk that the UK passport would have received greater attention from fraudsters and counterfeiters. Also, UK nationals would have been treated less favourably than those of other nations at border controls and not have been able to travel visa free to the United States.

The greater assurance and integrity offered by the e-passport enables border control authorities worldwide to spend more time dealing with higher risk passengers. Accessing the data held on the e-passport automatically, enables UK Border Force officers to use their time more efficiently on improved security and fraud checks, making our border even more secure. Additionally, the UK Border Agency is encouraging e-passport holders to use the facial recognition gates currently being trialled in the UK, providing the travelling public with an easier passage through the controls.