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What is a biometric passport?

A biometric passport, also known as an e-Passport, ePassport or digital passport, is a passport that has an embedded electronic microprocessor chip in the cover. The passport chip contains biometric information that is used to authenticate the identity of the passport holder. Your important information is printed on the data page of the passport and stored in the chip. This includes your name, date of birth and other biographic information. An electronic passport is a modern security document with many security features - these are standardised by ICAO and the EU.

Why makes an e-Passport different to an ordinary passport?

Electronic chips need to be authenticated by public key infrastructure (PKI) which makes it extremely difficult and expensive to forge a biometric passport and means they are extremely secure (if all security mechanisms are correctly and fully implemented). Thanks to the introduction of biometric passports, fraud is easier to detect at border checkpoints. All e-Passports that have been issued by countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program (or VWP) and the USA, have security features that prevent unauthorised reading of any data stored on the microprocessor chip. The introduction of the new biometric passport also allowed the introduction of additional security features including the holder’s facial biometric.

PKI - A 'public key infrastructure' is a set of roles, procedures and policies that are needed to create, manage and distribute digital certificates and manage public-key encryption. This basically means that it allows the secure electronic transfer of your personal information using the microprocessor chip on your biometric passport.

    e-Passport security features allow the following (if applicable):

  • Basic Access Control (BAC) - ensures the authenticity of the passport
  • Extended Access Control (EAC) - protects the privacy of fingerprints stored on a biometric passport chip

When were biometric passports issued in the UK?

The first e-Passport was issued in the UK on the 6th of March 2006 and were gradually introduced throughout the rest of the year. This introduction took place in over 40 other countries and ensured that the UK remained within the Visa Waiver scheme. Originally the e-Passport had the personal details on the last page with the chip and antenna visible on the observations page but, since October 2010, the HM Passport Office has been issuing a new style e-Passport where the personal details, photograph and observations page has been moved to the front of the passport. The electronic chip is stored within the cover.

Do I need a biometric passport to travel to the United States?

If you are planning an exciting trip to the USA you are required to travel with a biometric passport if your passport was issued on or after October 26th 2016. You can easily tell if your passport is an e-Passport by looking at the cover, if it features an image of a rectangle bisected by a horizontal line, with a circle in the middle, just below the word ‘Passport’, then it is biometric.

What are the benefits of an e-Passport?

The benefits of having a biometric passport for travel include:

  • The ability to securely identify the traveller
  • To provide protection against identity theft
  • To protect your privacy
  • To make it extremely difficult to create fraudulent passports

What if you have a faulty chip on your e-Passport?

If you’ve been advised that your chip isn’t readable, or have had an occasion when your chip has failed to read then don’t panic - you have a couple of options. If you are travelling pretty soon (within the next couple of weeks) and you have proof of your pre-booked travel, you can call the HM Passport Office Advice Line for help. If you are not travelling anytime soon and haven’t proof of pre-booked travel, then you can return your passport with the faulty chip to her Majesty’s Passport Office. The contact address and telephone number can be found on the UK government website.

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