A major step forward in the fight against the rising threat of passport fraud is to be taken with the commencement of face-to-face interviews for passport customers, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) announced today.
(Media-Newswire.com) - A major step forward in the fight against the rising threat of passport fraud is to be taken with the commencement of face-to-face interviews for passport customers, the Identity and Passport Service ( IPS ) announced today.
The requirement to attend an interview will be introduced gradually, starting with small-scale interviews in a limited number of interview offices from May 2007, with IPS progressively adding further offices through to the end of 2007. The requirement will apply to customers aged 16 or over who have never had a passport before ( 609,000 customers per annum, around 10 per cent of total applications ).
Over half the population will be within 15 minutes of an interview office. 95 per cent will be within an hour's travel, and for those in more remote areas, IPS will conduct interviews over a secure webcam link in premises to be made available by a partner organisation.
New figures also published today provide the clearest picture yet of the extent of passport fraud. The results from the latest and largest ever IPS sampling exercise, involving in-depth analysis of several thousand passport applications over the course of a year, have reinforced the need for the interview requirement along with the other anti-fraud projects the agency has planned and delivered in recent years.
Home Office Minister Joan Ryan said:
"We are currently one of only a few western nations that do not have a face-to-face element to the passport application process. We know that this leads to fraudulent applications and that is why things are going to change this year, starting with first-time adult customers.
"From 2009 countries in the EU and beyond will also be adding fingerprints to their passports. So will we. We will not allow the British passport to become a second-rate travel document, a natural target for criminals.
"These vital changes to passports and passport-issuing, which we must carry out if the security of the British passport is to be maintained, will also lay the foundations for the National Identity Scheme. By linking unique biometric data to a secure database with strict rules outlining its use, the scheme will give us all a means of confirming identity - for adult residents including foreign nationals as well as UK citizens."
The interview requirement is the latest in a range of IPS anti-fraud measures, including: the introduction of enhanced background checks and the switch to biometric ePassports in 2006; the introduction of secure delivery of passports in 2004; the creation of the Lost and Stolen passport database in 2003; cracking down on Day of the Jackal-type fraud; boosting the number of IPS specialist counter-fraud teams; and providing a Passport Validation Service so that the validity of passports presented as proof of ID can be checked. The agency is also establishing online links to information on naturalisation, births, marriages and deaths, to improve its ability to confirm statements made on passport applications.
IPS detected some 6,500 attempted frauds last year, and 50 per cent of fraudulent applications originate in the first-time adult application category. Identity fraud often turns out to be the 'tip of the iceberg', with investigations of passport-related fraud subsequently exposing a wide range of even more serious criminal activity. The IPS 2007/08 Business Plan, also published today, sets out a new fraud-reduction target: to reverse rising fraud levels and reduce the rate of undetected application fraud to below its current level of 0.15 per cent.
IPS Chief Executive James Hall said:
"It is our job to make sure that the British passport remains amongst the most secure in the world, and that the identity of UK passport holders is protected.
"We have ramped up our anti-fraud capacity hugely over the last few years, and we will need to continue that process if we want to keep ahead of increasingly sophisticated forgers as well as deterring and preventing fraudulent applications. We are determined to meet the new target that we have set to reduce such fraud. These new requirements are vital if we are to have a fighting chance.
"There is a need to strike a balance between protecting the public and inconveniencing the huge majority of our customers who are perfectly law-abiding citizens. Given the growing threat of fraud and forgery however, and looking around the world at what other countries are doing and at the cost of their passports compared to ours, we are confident that the price of these improvements is one worth paying."
As first-time adult customers will need to attend an interview, it will no longer be possible for IPS to provide them with a Fast Track ( 1 week ) service. The Fast Track service will stop for all first-time adult passport customers from 1 June 2007. This change will affect less than 1 per cent of IPS' customers.
All customers will still be able to submit their applications by post, online or in person at one of the seven main regional passport offices. Once their application has passed the background check stage of the process, however, first-time adult customers will be contacted and asked to arrange an interview at an office of their choice from the network of 69 new interview offices.
The interview requirement may in future be extended to other types of passport applications. IPS will in any event need to see all customers in person to enrol fingerprints from 2009 when the UK, in line with international developments, adds fingerprints to passports.
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The Identity and Passport Service ( IPS ) was established as an executive agency of the Home Office on 1 April 2006. It builds on the strong foundations of the UK Passport Service to provide passport services to the public and, as part of the National Identity Scheme established through the Identity Cards Act 2006, will be responsible for the introduction of the National Identity Scheme. The development of the National Identity Scheme builds on the changes being made to passports to provide a secure and straightforward way to safeguard personal identities from misuse.
2. The IPS has seven main regional passport offices, in Belfast, Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport, and Peterborough.
3. A report to Parliament on passport interviews and the IPS 2007/08 Business Plan were published on 20 March and are available at http://www.ips.gov.uk.
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