Russia to Have Biometric Passports in Two Years

Excerpt from report by Russian external TV service NTV Mir on 8 June

[Presenter Yuliya Pankratova] In the next few years, Russian overseas passports will be renewed for at least the third time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The passport and visa department at Moscow's Main Directorate of Internal Affairs said that the new ones will be introduced in Kaliningrad Region next year and throughout Russia the following year.

[Presenter Anton Khrekov] The main difference between the new and old passports is that the new ones have a microchip sewn into the paper which knows more about the passport owner than the owner himself. Technology like this is being introduced a lot in the USA and the EU. Critics of the idea quote the writer George Orwell: "Big Brother is watching you."

Our St Petersburg correspondent, Valeriy Dragilev, takes a look at the [new] passport:

[Correspondent] Russian overseas passports will look something like this. A test edition was presented in St Petersburg today. The only features remaining from the traditional passport will most likely be the appearance and the burgundy colour, although the test editions are blue and green. All the rest is 21st century technology, which just a short time ago was to be seen only in sci-fi films.

[Ivan Romanyuk, captioned as engineer at the Goznak association] There is a hidden image, a hidden text with the photograph. You can see it from a certain angle, and then only with this glass. The black and grey that you see now is revealed using a laser, plus the microchip placed in this page. Around the perimeter there are antennae for swiping [word indistinct]

[Correspondent] It was a big presentation [in St Petersburg]. Anyone who wanted could even have their own artificial passport made as a souvenir. [passage omitted: correspondent sits in front of camera]

To sign it, you will not need a page There will just be an electronic screen. Visa office staff will need at least a training course in to how to use the equipment.

[Romanyuk] All the information that is processed goes into the computer. We then have to put a blank passport book in the machine and press a switch.

[Correspondent] It is printed off in about 40 seconds. But the special printer that does this can cost up to 1.5m euros. How this will affect the queues and the cost of the passport is not yet clear. The producers are only saying the new passport will be a bit more expensive than the old one, though the experts say the chips are very expensive.

[Viktor Minkin, captioned as head of department at the Elektron research institute] About 100 dollars each. Of course, with an adult population of 100m, if we are to opt for microchip passports, this system will cost about 10bn dollars.

[Correspondent] The state is planning to spend between R14bn and R24bn on the new overseas passports, according to different sources.

[Aleksey Mikulenko, captioned as head of the passport and visa department of the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs in Moscow] These passports should be swiped at any border in any country. A lot of work is being done on the microchips. By all accounts their production is even to be put out to tender.

[Correspondents]

[Andrey Vakulenko, captioned as leading biometrics expert at the Informatsiya scientific research association] If you have a 3-D image of the person facing you, and you compare it not only with the passport, but also with the information in the data base, forgery is not possible.

[Correspondent] The full list of details to be included in the biometric passports has not yet been agreed. Each new element requires changes in legislation. But, one way or the other, rank and file Russian citizens will be using the 21st century passport in the next two years.

[Arkadiy Trachuk, captioned as general director of the Goznak association] We will most likely opt for 2-D digital photographs and two finger prints.

[Correspondent] The new passports will gradually replace the old ones. Russian citizens will be among the first in the world who will most likely have to get used to the idea of having their finger prints in their passport.

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