Biometric tech gets small town trial

An unnamed small town will host a trial of the biometric technology that will be embedded in UK passports from 2006

A trial of the biometric technology to be used from 2006 in the UK's next-generation "passport cards" is to begin later this year in an unnamed small town.

In line with Civil Aviation Authority rules, the Passport Service must have biometric chips -- containing fingerprint or iris data -- embedded into British passports by 2005, with the service's overall strategy of introducing a biometric "passport card" in place by 2006.

The Home Office confirmed that the trial will run for six-months in a small town with a population of "about 10,000" people.

A Home Office spokesman told "The trial is for enrolling biometric information for the Passport Service, working out the feasibility, cost and practicality of taking biometric information from a cross-section of the population."

Home Secretary David Blunkett has already floated the possibility of a new national ID card being integrated into the biometric passport card in a consultation document, but the Home Office spokesman denied the trial is a test run of the ID cards "by stealth".

"Ultimately it is looking towards the introduction of passport cards by 2006. But it is only natural for one government department to share information on one project with the Passport Service if that can be used by another part of government to inform its decision on another project."

Separately, the government announced plans to extend a biometric scheme for people applying for visas to the UK to tackle immigration and asylum abuse. In July, a six-month pilot scheme began in Sri Lanka where everyone applying for a visa to the UK had to provide a fingerprint record that was stored electronically.

This is then used to identify the "significant number" of Sri Lankans who the government claims on or after arrival in the UK make fraudulent asylum or immigration applications in a false identity. It is also used to return failed asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka who have destroyed their documents, by confirming their true identity.

Blunkett has now revealed plans to extend the scheme's use to include other countries where there are high levels of asylum fraud.

He said in a statement: "Taking a biometric when we are dealing with a visa application will provide a much more secure way of confirming someone's identity, even if they deliberately try to mislead the authorities by destroying their documents. It will also make it easier to discover if someone is in this country illegally by over-staying their visa period, and to remove those who do not have a right to be in this country."

The exact scope of the extension has not been decided but a Home Office spokesman said it would be rolled out "step by step" for each applicable country.

The US is already introducing a requirement for all visas for the United States to contain biometric data by October 2004.