The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has announced a £5m deal with 3M to kit out its embassies and consulates overseas with the technology needed to issue "biometric" passports. However, the scope of the deal largely confirms that the biometric element is less high tech than we might have imagined.
There will be no fingerprints on overseas passports for the time being, and the only biometric involved is facial recognition data. This will be taken from the structural dimensions of the standard passport photos and coded onto a chip, rather than involving complicated specialised photography that can map a face in three dimensions, etceteras. The chip will also include the passport holder's name, age and place of birth.
The deal with 3M, then, is mostly about making sure passports issued abroad - and one in 10 British passports is issued outside the UK - are issued as securely "as those issued by the UK Passport Office", according to the 3M announcement. We could probably get away with calling it a standard secure document issuing system with a little biometric garnish.
David Cook, general manager, 3M Safety and Security Division said that the goal was to ensure that multiple travel documents are not issued to the same person. "This is just the beginning. To complete the journey, all UK issued passports must become biometric," he added.
The UK's 104 consulates and embassies will begin issuing the chipped passports in January 2006. ®