Passport Articles | General Passports

How Biometric Passports Protect You

The first ever biometric passport or e-passport was issued by the government's central production facility on the 6th March 2006. These e-passports introduced a radical new design with many additional security features, likes of which were at one point in time thought to only exist in science fiction movies.

These fantastic new security features including a chip with the holder's facial biometric, contact-less smart card technology as well as a micro processor and antenna to power the chip and allow communication between the passport and the passport readers.

These first e-passports showed the personal details at the back page with the chip and antenna visible on observation page. They were introduced gradually throughout 2006. This mirrored the introduction of e-passports in over 100 other countries and we are sure the rest will follow suit. This change also ensured the UK remained within the US visa waiver scheme.

How do they work?

For the average traveller the only difference you will notice with the biometric passports is at Passport Control. Many of us have passed through Passport Control and had to stand in line in front of an officer while they check you against your passport photo verifying your details, well not any more.

The new e-passport gates are all automatic, you simply open your passport to your photo page, which is also the page that holds all you security details hold it down on the scanner and look straight ahead.

The facial recognition software that they use is incredibly sophisticated. Each human face has approximately 80 nodal points. Some of these measured by the Facial Recognition Technology are:

• Distance between the eyes
• Width of the nose
• Depth of the eye sockets
• The shape of the cheekbones
• The length of the jaw line

These nodal points are measured creating a numerical code, called a face-print, representing the face in the database, the computer then decides if the person standing in front of the camera is the same person in the photo in the passport.

Don't get caught out

Many people have found this new system a little daunting, after all it is a big change in they way that we are handled at an airport. There is no need to worry too much though, there are always several members of staff that are there to help in case you're having some trouble.

The biggest cause in delays at e-passport gates is that people forget to take off things like glasses, sunglasses, hats and religious head-wear. The computer software needs a clear unobstructed view of your whole face; otherwise you'll be standing there for quite some time.

How does it keep us safe?

The main advantage to using these new e-passports is that they have taken away the major cause of delays and errors, and that is us humans. We call it' human error' for a reason, we are only human and we can and do make mistakes. We use perception every second and when we look at someone's face against a picture we interpret and perceive those images, and it is easy to mistake one person for another or look at the most obvious features while discounting the most important.

These computers and their incredible software takes away all doubt as all of their decisions are based on calculations and not perception. Their calculations are a carefully mapped out set of mathematical code, so its near impossible to make an error or fool this machine.

All of this technology makes it very difficult indeed for the people who are attempting to use passports or information illegally, and the introduction of these e-passports has dramatically cut down on the amounts of things like -

• Passport Theft
• Identity Theft
• People Smuggling
• Child Abductions
• Drugs Trafficking
• Terrorist Movement

Due to the large amounts of technology and information held on e-passports it is now giving everyday people piece of mind that they and their details are safe, whilst also deterring criminals and making it easier for the authorities to track and catch them.

How do I get an e-passport?

Luckily for you, you don't really need to do anything different. When you apply for a new passport or renew your old one the Passport Office will automatically issue you with a biometric/e-passport. This has been a change over that has been happening for a few years now in a move to gradually phase out old style passports all together.

If you have an old style passport with a blue cover that was issued in the UK up until 1989, you can not renew this passport. You must apply as a first-time applicant and also send the blue passport to the Passport Office with your supporting documents.

You may also need to apply for a first time passport if you haven't had a passport for a considerable length of time. So if you haven't had a passport in the last 20 years it might be worth checking which parts of the application to fill out.

We think it's important that we know where and what our information is doing especially when we are travelling overseas, and biometric/e-passports are the latest tool in doing so. As the way and frequency in which we travel increases and changes it's vital that the ways in which we protect ourselves and our information changes to.

Do you need to renew your passport?

If you are due to travel soon and have noticed that you do not have an e-passport, many countries such as the United States have now made this a requirement when travelling. You can renew your passport on-line via the standard service or if you need to obtain your new e passport quickly you can use an urgent passport service.

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