Parliamentary watchdog not convinced about separate e-passports and ID cards

Antony Savvas

The parliamentary public accounts committee (Pac) has praised the way e-passports have been rolled out, but says the government has some work to do to convince the public about the need for separate ID cards as a result.The Pac says the information held on e-passports is similar to the information contained in the proposed ID cards, and the government’s plans for a separate ID card may be unwarranted.

Edward Leigh MP, chairman of the Pac, said, “The introduction of the first generation of e-passports was an excellent example of successful project management and procurement by the Identity and Passport Service.

“The introduction from 2009 of second generation e-passports, digitally storing holders’ fingerprints as well as their photographs, will present an even more demanding implementation challenge.”

The Pac is also concerned about the reliability of the chip in the passports. Leigh said, “The best manufacturer’s warranty that the Identity and Passport Service could get for the electronic chip embedded in the passport was for only two years, even though passports are valid for ten years.

“The public will want to be told just how durable the chip is and, if it stops working, who will pay for a replacement. The prospect of e-passport failures contributing to yet further delays at border controls is not an enticing one.”

Leigh says, “Most of us are going to have to have both an e-passport and an identity card. The Home Office needs to explain why an e-passport could not serve both purposes. At the very least, the Identity and Passport Service should reduce areas of overlap as the identity card project progresses and make sure that the combined fee for the two documents is minimised.”

A Pac report examines how lessons learnt from the introduction of e-passports will be incorporated into future projects, the cost of authenticating applicants’ identities, passport fee trends, the measures being taken by the Identity and Passport Service to hold down passport fees, and working with others to reduce costs and improve border security.