Full biometric ID scheme to reach the UK 'by 2009'

Government moves to tighten security will see e-passports with facial biometrics and fingerprints for all within five years

E-passports with facial biometrics along with ID cards are set to hit the UK early next year and the Government also plans to include fingerprints in both by 2009, it was revealed at Biometrics 2005 in London on Thursday.

The long awaited passports will include a microchip which holds a digitised facial image with space to hold a further biometric if required by UK policy or EU directive.

The move has been spurred on by US demands for all countries within its visa-waiver programme to have a machine readable biometric passport by October 2005.

Speaking at the Biometrics 2005 conference in London, Bernard Herdan, chief executive of the UK Passport Service (UKPS), said the passports would be phased in by February 2006 and completed by July 2006.

"We have to make sure that as we cross from digital production to e-passport production that the technology works in all other countries," Herdan said.

Existing passport holders will not need to have their passport updated, but they will have to comply with the new guidelines when they renew or replace their passports.

E-passports will incorporate a special chip that stores basic data, including the passport holder's name, date of birth and place of birth.

ID cards will be issued with passports, which will contain finger and thumb images; two iris images; and facial images. These will also be stored on a National Identification Register. Herdan explained "this is all part of a more holistic approach to move towards more rigorous identification."

The chips will be embedded in the front cover of the passport and new applicants will also face an interview for further authentication.

"We believe there is a pressing need for an improved integrated system of identity authentication. One part of this is the Personal Identity Project, through which information supplied by passport applicants is checked against information held on private and public sector databases," Herdan said.

The UKPS is to implement a facial recognition system to evaluate facial recognition use and capture user requirements ahead of the fully integrated system being procured. This will contain facial images of all known or suspected fraudulent passport applications. "Facial recognition has to be the direction the travel industry is heading in. We want to move to an environment where airlines are doing pre-board checks, but our first step is to secure our borders," he added.