Australia Introduces Biometrically-Enabled Passports

Country's minister for foreign affairs offers comments on release of ePassport


Text of media release by Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer; carried by Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website on 25 October

I am pleased to announce today the release of the most secure Australian passport ever - the biometrically-enabled ePassport.

The introduction of the ePassport is a further demonstration of the government's commitment to the safety and security of Australian travellers, building on the protections introduced in the new Australian Passports Act 2005 on 1 July.

While the new passport looks much the same as its predecessor, it has a microchip embedded in the centre page which contains the digitised facial image and personal details of the passport holder as they appear on the data page. The microchip can be read electronically and will enable the implementation of cutting-edge facial recognition technology.

This technology represents a quantum leap forward in identity verification and security, providing a much stronger linkage between the individual and his or her identity than traditional systems which rely solely on visual identification. It will bolster the passport issuing process by providing a further safeguard against fraudulent applications.

As ePassport processing facilities are progressively introduced at Australian and overseas airports, the new technology will also strengthen border security and streamline the movement of passengers through airports.

The Australian ePassport incorporates a number of important security features designed to protect the identity of the bearer. A special code is used to write data to the microchip, the chip is protected by a secure electronic "key", and an additional access code guards against electronic eavesdropping or "skimming" of information on the microchip.

Australia is one of the first countries worldwide to issue an ePassport. The ePassport has been developed in accordance with agreed international standards. By introducing the ePassport now Australia will remain at the forefront of international efforts to strengthen identity and border security.

ePassports will now be issued to all new applicants and to those seeking to renew their passports. While the introduction of this technology represents a major advance in passport security, existing passport holders will not be required to obtain an ePassport until their current documents expire. The existing L and M series passports are, and will continue to be, very secure documents for the duration of their validity.

Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website, Canberra in English 25 Oct 05

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