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MPs praise e-passport roll out

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MPs say project management of the first electronic passport has been an outstanding success.

The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) has been praised for its management of the introduction of the first type of e-passport, which contains an electronic chip storing biographical data and a digital facial image of the holder.

MPs on the public accounts committee said it was an "excellent example of successful project management and procurement" and urged the Office of Government Commerce to spread the lessons learned from the project across government.

But successful roll out of the second generation e-passport in two years will need a reconsideration of costs and the preparation of contingency plans, says the committee's report.

The e-passport is the first official British paper document to incorporate an electronic chip and includes security features which make it hard to forge and prevent unauthorised reading of the chip.

By September 2006 the IPS had reached 100 per cent production of the new e-passport, ahead of the deadline for staying within the US visa waiver programme. The agency used an exemption from procurement rules to amend its existing contract for passport production, rather than holding a competition.

However, warning of the challenge ahead, committee chair Edward Leigh said: "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 best manufacturer's warranty which the IPS could get for the electronic chip embedded in the passport was for only two years, even though passports are valid for 10 years.

"The prospect of e-passport failures contributing to yet further delays at border controls is not an enticing one."

The report also recommends that the IPS eliminates areas of overlap between the e-passport and the national identity card scheme. The Home Office must explain why citizens need an identity card as well as an e-passport, it says.

Philippe Martin, senior analyst at Kable, said: "There's a distinct possibility that the cost of the e-passport could rise again, as the government seeks to pass on the additional costs of the second generation passport to the citizen.

"But on top of this, citizens will also have to pay for an identity card. This begs the questions, how far will public tolerance stretch in having to foot the bill for these innovations? Is this just another form of indirect taxation?"

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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