THE DEBATE: UK Passports – Interview or Interrogation?

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Can the Home Office justify raising passport costs to over £70 while spending nearly £100 million on interview centres that have zero effect in combating identity fraud or terrorism?

Convicted terrorists have obtained and used fraudulent passports such as  al-Qaida plotter, Dhiren Barot, who planned a series of UK attacks which involved the use of a “dirty bomb.

Are passport interviews just a necessary inconvenience in the war on terror – or are they “interrogation centres” which collect personal data in an ever growing surveillance society?

Below are two reports from opposing sides of the debate.

Where do you stand?

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Report from the BBC

Millions of pounds are being wasted on a scheme aimed at combating passport fraud, the Conservatives have said. The party voiced its concern as the BBC learned that out of 90,000 applicants given compulsory face-to-face interviews, none had been turned down.

Interviews for all new passport applicants were introduced in April 2007 as part of a crackdown on fraud.

The Identity and Passport Service said the interview system deterred people from making bogus applications.

Fraudsters apply

The Home Office estimated 10,000 passports had been issued on the basis of fraudulent information last year, half of them being given to first-time applicants.

Since then the Identity and Passport Service has carried out nearly 90,000 interviews with first-time adult applicants at its new, multi-million pound network of centres.

The centres cost £50m to set up and £30m a year to run.

But so far nobody has been refused a passport because of their interview, which focuses on information such as previous addresses and bank details, BBC Breakfast has learned.

About £12.50 of the £72 passport fee goes towards paying for these interviews.

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green said the interview process and its charges were a waste of money.

“Every hardened criminal, organised gang and international terrorist are not going this route to get their fake British passports, they’ll be doing [it] other ways.

“A significant chunk of the cost of a passport is now going on these interviews, which so far are proving to be completely useless.”

‘Deterrent effect’

But Bernard Herdan, of the Identity and Passport Service (IPS), said the lack of refusals was not a sign of failure.

“I’m satisfied this is a very successful programme,” he said.

Mr Herdan continued: “Interviews and tough fraud prevention systems are designed to deter identity fraud and pick out fraudulent passport applications before interview. To claim interviews are not working misses the point.”

He said the fact of being asked to attend an interview deterred many potentially fraudulent applicants.

The IPS estimated there had been about 10,000 successful fraudulent passport applications last year and was “committed to reducing this number”, he added.

From 2010/11, citizens will be able to decide whether they want an identity card or a passport.

Both will contain fingerprint identification data. 

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Report from Kable’s Government Computing

The Home Office has confirmed that compulsory interviews for first time passport applicants have not led to a single rejected application

The face to face interviews, introduced in June 2007 as a precursor to the interviews intended for all applicants for identity cards, cost £50m to set up with an annual budget of £30m. They add around £12.50 to the £72 price of a passport.

Bernard Herden, executive director of the Identity and Passport Service, said the interviews were part of its work to deter and detect fraud. “This in particular is a deterrent factor,” he told BBC1’s Breakfast programme on 21 April 2008.

“People will have faded away and not come to us, because we’ve asked them things that show that we are on to them,” he added. “By the time we come to the interview, we wouldn’t expect many cases to be fraudulent.”

He added that the interviews will be better assessed in 12 months’ time, when a statistical analysis of their abilities as a deterrent will be available, and that 350 cases had been referred to its fraud unit of which some are ongoing.

The Home Office said that no passport applications had been refused from the 87,765 interviews held up to the end of March.

Conservative shadow immigration minister Damian Green told the BBC: “A significant chunk of the cost of a passport is now going on these interviews, which so far are proving to be completely useless.”