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Passport police wipe smiles off applicants' faces

Little girl and public enemy #1 both snubbed

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A nine-year-old girl had her half term holiday cancelled because her teeth were showing in her passport photograph, reported The Sun newspaper.

Alys Edwards paid a last minute visit to the passport office to renew her passport with her parents in Peterborough, but was told that a photograph with teeth would overload the machine that read it.

Digital photographs have been stuck on the first generation biometric passports so computers can compare them to databases of people wanted by the police.

But the systems have not been programmed to understand that little girls are more likely to smile in photographs than plant bombs on aeroplanes.

The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) also shredded the travel plans of their sometime nemesis - Simon Davies of campaign group Privacy International.

Davies has been fighting for people's privacy against state schemes like Identity Cards and biometric passports for some 20 years. Last year, he was labelled privacy enemy #1, and claimed the government was trying to sully his name after being identified as one of many contributors to an academic report that was critical of the ID Card scheme.

On Monday he, like the Edwards', was told he couldn't renew his passport - this time it was a London office and this time it was because an inch of laminate covering the data page of his passport had come free.

As a consequence, instead of renewing, he would have to apply for a new passport, the IPS staff said. IPS staff didn't bat an eyelid after being shown newspaper clippings with his photo and other proof of his identity.

Moments earlier Davies had been the centre of a disturbance that had three security guards run to his attention. A wasp had taken to the air round his head while he was standing at the counter. The staff scattered, while the guards tried to swipe the wasp.

Davies told The Register he had been suspected of bringing the wasp into the office. His plans to speak at a UN conference on internet governance next Monday have also been cancelled. ®

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