First biometric passports issued to diplomats

'Ambassador, with these trial passports you are really spoiling us... '

'Ambassador, with these trial passports you are really spoiling us... '

The first ePassports featuring biometric identification stored on a chip have been issued to British diplomats.

The Foreign Office has been conducting trials of the new passports, which will be issued to the public from February next year. The ePassports have been issued to diplomats including the British ambassador to the US, David Manning.

A trial of the passports took place at the Paris consulate in September, and a second trial took place in Washington in late October.

The passports are in the same format as the documents which will be issued to the public next year - the "new style passport with biometric data", a Foreign Office spokesman said.

Immigration officials have been notified so if diplomats try to use them to travel they should be able to get into the UK, he added. The trial passports will be withdrawn in a few months.

The passports feature "first generation" biometrics facial recognition - a digital version of the photo in the passport. Later versions are likely to include other biometrics such as fingerprints.

The UK Passport service has already started enforcing new photo standards during the quiet season to allow full scale ePassport production and facial recognition.

By August all new passports will be ePassports, in good time for the US October visa waiver deadline, the Home Office told silicon.com.

Passports with embedded biometrics will form one of the building blocks for the government's controversial identity cards.