UK passport gets a redesign to fight fraudsters

But how much will the change really help boost security?
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor on

But how much will the change really help boost security?

The UK passport has been redesigned to make it harder for fraudsters to replace the electronic chip that stores the holder's details.

The chip - which holds a person's digital photo and biographic details - has been moved to the inside of the passport cover.

The Home Office claims the redesign will make it easier to detect if somebody has tampered with the chip.

"We have moved the chip to the inside of the cover where it will no longer be visible and give physical protection, making it harder to replace the chip without damage to the passport cover being easily spotted," a Home Office spokesman said.

"The design of secure travel documents needs to change at regular intervals to stay ahead of the criminals that seek to fraudulently alter or copy passports."

An image of the redesigned UK passport

An image of the redesigned UK passport
(Image credit: Home Office)

There are still ways around the passport's security, according to Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge University.

"If I want to replace the chip, I zap the existing one and I put a new one in the back somewhere. The existing one is still physically present - it just doesn't work anymore because it's dead.

"The new one that I've stuck in is the one that responds to the scanner," he said.

Anderson added that if the government was sure of the ability of the security features protecting the digital information stored on the chip it would get rid of the paper passport altogether.

"If the government were really confident in its digital stuff it would allow people to pass through borders without carrying the passport and instead merely carry the electronic version of it - for example, in their mobile phone."

The redesigned passport will be issued from October and will also feature new images of the UK; a second image of the passport holder printed on the passport's observations page; new designs stretching across two pages and a new transparent cover for the passport that includes several holograms.

The coalition government put on hold the Labour government's plans to introduce second generation biometric passports from 2012, where the embedded microchip would also store scans of the passport holder's fingerprints.

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