Irish e-passports now available

17 Oct 2006

Irish citizens who apply for or update their passport from yesterday onwards will have biometric information about themselves contained on their documents, following the completion of the e-passport project for the Department of Foreign Affairs by BearingPoint.

It is understood that BearingPoint had to complete the project in time for a deadline to have the system in place by 26 October to meet requirements of the US visa waiver programme.

Meeting the waiver programme’s aggressive schedule is understood to have had serious implications for Ireland as the country is one of the top 10 visiting nations to the US, with an estimated 500,000 Irish citizens visiting the country last year. The bulk of these visits were visa-free.

The project involved creating a new, hi-tech passport that includes secure electronic chips store an encrypted digital version of the holder’s identity.

The chips include securely-stored biographical information and digital image identical to the information visually displayed on the physical passport.

The chip is a contact-less microchip embedded inside the passport that allows the information to be read by special chip readers at a close distance. These readers use digital signature technology to verify the authenticity of the data on the chip, alerting officials if the information has been tampered with.

According to advertisements in the national newspapers last week by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Irish citizens with e-passports can go into their nearest passport offices to see for themselves the data contained on the chip in their passports.

Under its deal with the Department of Foreign Affairs, BearingPoint modified Ireland’s Automated Passport System (APS) to allow the capture of biometric information from the applicant’s photograph and to ensure this was encoded in the e-passport document in a secure fashion.

The Irish Government is also introducing facial recognition technology to coincide with the release of the e-passport. This technology will be used to improve identity verification and reduce identity-related fraud.

BearingPoint designed and built the original APS for the Irish Government in 2004, helping the Government manage a record increase in passport applications, with over one million APS passports issued to date.

By John Kennedy