Rough fraud figures published by the Identity and Passport Service today have become the government's latest justification for its identity card plans.
The Home Office estimated that 10,000 fraudulent passport applications were approved in the 11 months to October 2006. But its figures were only partial and the Home Office refused to publish more details.
Joan Ryan, Home Office minister, said in a statement that the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) was introducing measures to stop passport fraud that would "also lay the foundations for the National Identity Scheme".
"By linking unique biometric information to a secure database with strict rules outlining its use, the scheme will give us all a means of confirming identity," she said.
Opposition home affairs spokespeople said the flaws in the passport system were an indication of the hash they thought the government would make of the identity card system.
Ryan said in a written ministerial statement that a host of schemes would make passport fraud harder, including interviews being introduced in stages from May.
An accompanying report stated: "Although precise figures are difficult to obtain, it appears that the level of attempted fraud is increasing and getting more sophisticated."
The report, Introduction of Passport Application Interviews - Update March 2007, contained a passing reference to the fraud survey. A Home Office spokesman said: "The details of the research are not available."
The statement provided a brief description of the methods used to calculate that almost 10,000 issued passport last year were the result of fraudulent applications.
It said the Home Office found from a sample of "several thousand" passport applications between 31 October 2005 to 30 September 2006 that a quarter of a per cent of passport applications were "believed to be" fraudulent. That is, of 6.6 million passport applications, 16,500 raised suspicion.
The investigation involved a team of passport experts and fraud investigators going back over old passport applications that had already been vetted in the usual course of the passport office's business.
The statement did not describe what further checks they had performed, but said that they found that "almost half" of the suspected applications already been detected by the Identity and Passport Service.
"The remainder had gone undetected," it said, and were therefore likely to be fraudulent passports passed into circulation. These documents, which it should be noted had not been thought suspicious before, consisted of about 0.15 per cent of all applications, or 9,900 of 6.6 million applications.
Nick Clegg MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, said in a written statement how "surreal" it was for the government to be "advertising its own failings" to "make the case" for identity cards.®