Europe inches closer to full e-passport rollout

The UK was one of 27 countries that took part in tests which successfully demonstrated second-generation e-passports could be recognised by authentication systems in more than one country

Europe has moved closer to the rollout of full biometric passports after key systems were shown to work.

The UK was one of 27 countries that took part in the tests of RFID chips and passport readers for second-generation e-passports.

The tests demonstrated that it was possible for different EU countries to produce the e-passports to the same standard and that the e-passports could be recognised by passport-authentication systems in multiple countries.

Of the 27 countries, 12 completed the first round of tests and demonstrated that their second-generation e-passports could be recognised by authentication systems in more than one country.

The second-generation e-passports, due to be introduced in the UK in 2011/12, will be fitted with a RFID chip containing fingerprint scans and personal details, which will feature security measures to guard the data against cloning or tampering.

First generation e-passports, introduced in the UK in 2006, typically hold only facial photo scans and ID information from the paper passport on a RFID chip.

Second-generation e-passport chips feature increased protection by requiring the passport reader to authenticate itself, reducing the chance of 'skimming' — the practice of an unauthorised reader extracting personal information from the chip. Chip readers will have to be authorised by the e-passport issuer up to one month beforehand to gain access to the e-passport chip.

The communication between the chip and the reader is more strongly encrypted on second-generation e-passports compared to the encryption on first-generation ones.

Bob Carter of the Identity and Passport Service and chairman of the Brussels Interoperability Group, said in a statement: "The rigorous testing in Prague was a critical step in the European deployment of second generation e-passports."

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said that additional protection on second-generation chips would "prevent the chip data from being cloned".

The tests were run by digital security company Entrust.

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