Committee of Public Accounts Press Notice


Publication of 49th Report of Session 2006-07

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

“The introduction of the first generation of electronic passports (or ePassports) was an excellent example of successful project management and procurement by the Identity and Passport Service. The introduction from 2009 of second generation ePassports, digitally storing holders’ fingerprints as well as their photographs, will present an even more demanding implementation challenge.

“The best manufacturer’s warranty which the Identity and Passport Service could get for the electronic chip embedded in the passport was for only two years, however - even though passports are valid for ten years. The public will want to be told just how durable the chip is and, if it stops working, who will pay for a replacement. The prospect of ePassport failures contributing to yet further delays at border controls is not an enticing one.

“Most of us are going to have to have both an ePassport and an identity card. The Home Office needs to explain why an ePassport could not serve both purposes. At the very least, the Identity and Passport Service should reduce areas of overlap as the identity card project progresses and make sure that the combined fee for the two documents is minimized.”

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 49th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Identity and Passport Service, examined how lessons learnt from the introduction of ePassports will be incorporated into future projects; the cost of authenticating applicants’ identities; passport fee trends; the measures being taken by the Identity and Passport Service to hold down passport fees; and working with others to reduce costs and improve border security.

In 2006, to comply with the US Visa Waiver Programme and other international requirements and to strengthen border controls, the UK made a successful transition from digital to electronic passports (ePassports). An ePassport contains an electronic chip storing biographical data and a digital facial image of the passport holder. Further significant change is planned from 2009 with the advent of new second generation ePassports incorporating the fingerprints of the passport holder.

Passport fees have risen ahead of inflation since September 2003 to fund ePassport technology and other projects intended to improve the security of the UK passport. Since October 2006, the adult passport fee of £66 has included around £6 paid by all applicants to fund from 2007 the introduction of interviews for all adult, first time passport applicants. From 2009 all passport applicants will have to attend in person to provide fingerprints for inclusion in second generation ePassports. The set-up cost of data collection, validation and storage necessary to introduce these changes will be substantial.

During 2007 the Identity and Passport Service has been gradually introducing personal interviews at its 69 new interviewing offices for first time adult passport applicants. With the exception of those living in remote locations (where special arrangements will apply) at least one of the 69 offices is intended to be within an hour’s travel by public or private transport for 95% of the UK population. But elderly and disabled people may still face difficulties in making the journey. With the introduction of second generation ePassports, all applicants will need to attend a local office to give their fingerprints.

The long term durability of the chip embedded in the ePassport book is unproven and there is public uncertainty about whether, if the chip breaks through normal use before the passport expires, the passport holder will need to fund the cost of a replacement

Notes for Editors

1. Contact details for requests for further comment from Mr Edward Leigh are provided below. ISDN facilities are available for broadcasting purposes.

2. The full text of the Committee’s Conclusions and Recommendations is attached to this press notice.