Document forgery is a common means to advance crimes, and it becomes all the more complicated to nab criminals in case their attempt to cross borders goes unnoticed because of a forged passport. In a bid to prevent passport forgery and enhance security, Portugal government announced the introduction of national electronic passport with biometric data in 2006. Electronic passport also helps Portugal comply with ICAO international standards and EU regulatory framework.
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a specialized agency of United Nations (UN). The ICAO council adopts standards and recommended practices (SARP) concerning air navigation, air transport & safety, border crossing procedures, investigation of air disasters etc. ICAO has published standards for machine readable passports. Machine readable passports contain information that otherwise written as textual information can also be read by machines. Such provision allows faster processing of information. The recent standard also allows biometric information to be stored in a RFID computer chip. Biometric information help authenticate travelers. Much like a smart card, a digital signature if held in the chip ensures integrity of passport and biometric data. ICAO is also responsible for regulating e-Passports for storage, biometric information and putting forth specification for e-Passports
A biometric passport or electronic passport is a combined paper and electronic passport that contains biometric information that can be used to authenticate the identity of traveler.
“Electronic passports with biometric information are becoming mandatory for governments to reinforce security in border control.”
A major benefit of having an Portuguese electronic passport (PEP) is its linking to other public programs for the promotion of new technologies and electronic government functions. The ICAO compliant software and solution for country’s e-Passort includes a secure operating system with cryptographic capabilities running on contact-less microprocessor embedded in tamper resistant packaging placed in booklet’s back cover sheet. The document microprocessor may contain biometric information such as facial details and fingerprints. Fingerprint information is not included in the chip though in the at the time of writing this article. In some countries though such as Germany, e-Passports include two fingerprints. Advanced biometrics such as iris scans may also be included in the chip. Following details are incorporated in the chip:
- Date of Birth
- Place of Birth
- Issuing and expiration date of passport
- Digital Signature
In addition to fraud control and enhanced security, another benefit of e-Passport is that it meets all the requirements for the United States Visa Waiver Program. Additionally, governments can exchange information with other systems such as air operators, customs, immigration and other authorities electronically. Detailed inspection can be done electronically that brings cost efficiency. Electronic tracking, monitoring and control of issuance of passports at all stages of use and issuance process is another benefit.
As a rule, the Portuguese passport is electronic. Only in exceptional cases, a temporary passport which is not electronic is issued.