ePassports Press Release
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern T.D., took delivery on 18 April 2006 of the first Irish ePassports, containing biometric data. The delivery of a small number of these sample passports represents a key milestone in Ireland 's progress towards the full production of ePassports.
The Minister also highlighted the need to introduce a series of new offences relating to travelling on a false Irish passport which will be contained in new legislation approved by Government last week. The proposed legislation will introduce a series of offences and penalties that will offer greater security to Irish passport holders.
The new passport legislation comes at a time when the number of Irish passports has reached record volumes. Passport numbers in the first quarter of this year are 11.5% up on the same time last year. Over 680,000 passports were issued last year.
The new ePassports are presently undergoing independent testing in the Netherlands . Next week, the new passports will also be tested in US State facilities in Virginia to ensure they meet US specifications.
Under the United States visa waiver programme, participating countries must move to full production of biometric passports before 26 October, 2006. This has serious implications for Ireland . It is estimated that Irish citizens made 500,000 visits to the US last year, making Ireland one of the top 10 countries among visitors to that country. The bulk of these visits were visa free.
The Minister said: “I am confident that Ireland will meet the US deadline. I must emphasise that Irish passports, produced before the October deadline, will not be affected. Only those passports issued after the 26 th of October this year are covered by the new regulations.
“While the new biometric passport will look much the same as its predecessor, it will have a microchip embedded in it 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 at border controls. The Government has no plans, at this stage, to include a citizen's finger prints.
The Minister also announced that the Government has agreed to introduce new passport legislation into the Oireachtas this year. The legislation will provide for the regulation and issuance of passports, including the storage and use of biometric data collected by the Passport Office. The Minister stated that it is important for citizens to be assured that such data is securely stored and its use is properly regulated by legislation, passed by the Oireachtas.
The Minister said: “The need for passport legislation must be understood against a background of heightened public awareness of passport regulations. We need primary legislation in this area to safeguard the Passport office from legal challenges.
“ Ireland is internationally recognised as having one of the most advanced passport documents in the world. The proposed legislation will further augment the trust that the international community places in our passports.
The Minister also announced that there has been an 11.5% increase in the number of passports issued in Ireland in the first quarter of 2006.
In the first three months of 2006, 136,677 passports were issued by the Passport Offices in Balbriggan, Dublin and Cork . For the same period in 2005, the figure was 122,570. A total of 549,543 passports were issued in Ireland in 2005, with a further 130,000 issued by Irish diplomatic missions abroad.
The Minister said: “I welcome the record increase in passport applications. I am particularly pleased that there has been a 5.5% increase in the number of applicants using the Passport Express facility. Using this efficient and convenient method, people can make their passport applications at Post Offices and receive their passport within ten working days.
“I want to thank the staff in the Passport Offices in Balbriggan, in Dublin and in Cork for their continuing hard work, in what looks to be another record year for the number of passport issued.”
The scheduled date for completion of the biometric project is mid October 2006. The Department estimates that the cost of introducing the Irish ePassport will be € 8.8 million in 2006. The project is a partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and BearingPoint Ireland Ltd.
This technology represents a major development 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
strengthen the passport issuing process by providing a further
safeguard against fraudulent applications.
As biometric passport reading facilities are progressively introduced at overseas airports, the new technology will strengthen border security and streamline the movement of passengers through airports.
The biometric passport 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.