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Big Brother is watching the British

Week 42, 2007

The ePassport program has been launched a few years ago, and is recognized as a success for the Identity and Passport Service (IPS). The current ePassport version stores biographical data and a digital facial image of the holder in the chip, and costs GBP 72 (EUR 103) for the passport holder. The next version, to be introduced in 2009, will be a biometric ePassport that will store holders' fingerprints as well as their photographs in the chip. Some citizen groups are concerned about paying more for an updated version of their passport after 2009, but they are even more concerned that the semi conductor vendor gave only a 2-year warranty for the chip for a passport with 10 years validity. The public is concerned with long queues forming at immigration when ePassports become mute, and by who will bear the replacement cost.

What creates more controversy in the UK is the ID card project. The British government plans to introduce ID cards as early as 2008, and to make them compulsory by 2010, at least. The IPS claims some economies of scale can be obtained by combining the ID card and the ePassport issuance. The ID cards will be distributed to all legal residents in the UK, whereas ePassports are only given to British citizens. The ID cards are also expected to have more functions than the passport: they will be used by citizens to conduct transactions with public and private sector organisations. The procurement program for the ID card is already launched.

Civil liberties and privacy citizens organizations such as No2ID, criticize the ID card project altogether considering there is no need for an ID card when citizens can get a passport. These organizations, especially react to the latest announcement: from April 2008, the General Register Office, which is responsible for recording birth, marriage and death records, will become part of the Identity and Passport Service (IPS). This way, the IPS will fulfill the objective set in the Identity cards Act of 2006 to set up a National Identity Register (NIR).

As the IPS has been granted the right to commercialize its data, civil liberties and privacy citizens' organizations are especially concerned with the usage that will be made of the National Identity Register.

Thierry Spanjaard
Chief Editor
Smart Insights