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Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2007, 12:35 GMT
Interviews for passports 'vital'
British passport
The new system will come into force in April
Interviews for first-time passport applicants will be "vital" in helping crack identity fraud, officials say.

The Identity and Passport Service has defended changes which mean that from April first-time adult applicants will be called to a face-to-face interview.

Some 69 centres are being set up across the UK, with round-trip journey times for applicants of up to two hours.

Officials hope it will stop attempts to falsify passports, but some experts say professionals will not be deterred.

The problem of identity fraud costs the UK an estimated 1.7bn a year, according to Home Office minister Andy Burnham.

Campaign group NO2ID said the move was to aid the introduction of ID cards, not primarily to make passports more secure.

All new applicants, some 600,000 a year, will have to be interviewed by the Identity and Passport Service (IPS).

But the Home Office say the new system will be introduced gradually so not all first-time applicants will have to take part from April.

"Customers not contacted by IPS within eight working days from receipt of a completed application form will not need to have an interview," a spokesman said.

We have to go through a ridiculous amount of red-tape and nonsense to get out of this country
Christine Sinnett

From 2009, interviews will also be compulsory for the millions more people who apply to renew lost, stolen or expired passports each year.

IPS said the new system was an inconvenience, but it was vital to the battle against the growing fraud problem.

Chief executive James Hall said: "We all as citizens recognise that we have to be inconvenienced by airport security but it's in our collective benefit that we are.

"I think people will recognise that its appropriate once in their lifetime to go through a little bit more inconvenience in order that we can ensure the integrity of the passport document."

Not intrusive

Questions in the 10-20 minute interviews will centre on information like previous addresses and bank details.

It is hoped the measure will make people think twice about committing passport fraud, about 75% of which is believed to involve first-time applicants.

Fraud expert Prof Michael Levy said: "It's ratcheting up the level of knowledge that you need about your pretended self in order to get that passport, compared to the present situation where you have a free hit."

Some experts argue that the test may deter "chancers", but that "hardcore" passport fraudsters will not be put off.

Tom Craig, a former Scotland Yard fraud officer, said checking of passports at banks and building societies was a bigger issue.

"My suggestion to the Home Office would be let's try and educate more people, raise the awareness in relation to the banks and building societies, so that they can check the passports presented to them."

"A lot of these passports we're getting now they're actually doctored, so they've got a genuine passport, they change the biographical page in some way or form or they create a completely new page."

About 610,000 applicants will be interviewed per year - approx 10% of all applications
1,700 confirmed frauds were detected last year
74% of fraudulent cases were first-time adult applications
The IPS aim is that 99% of the population will be within an hour's travel of an office; more than half within 15 minutes
Source: Home Office/IPS

Mr Craig added that finding fraudulent applications was like "looking for a needle in a haystack". He said while interviews would help stop fraud they were just one facet amid a "raft of things that need to be achieved".

Many passports were sold on to criminals after being obtained legitimately, he said, while others were stolen.

And to be effective, interviewers would have to be well trained, he added.

"If you are not good at interviewing you are not going to pick out the bad suspect," he said.

NO2ID general secretary Guy Herbert said: "It is being misrepresented as essential for passports, but it is identity card work by the back door."

The group is launching a campaign to get young people to apply for their first passport before April in order to avoid the interviews.

Secure chip

The Home Office said it aimed to ensure that 99% of the population would be within an hour's travel - one way - of an office, and more than half within 15 minutes.

Applicants living in remote areas will be interviewed via a secure webcam link.

A spokesman said interviews would not be "intrusive", but aimed at ensuring the applicant was who they said they were.

From 2009, all those who want to renew their passports will have to visit one of the centres to have their fingerprints and photographs taken, in preparation for the biometric passport.

And some may also face a similar but shorter interview.

Since October, all Britons applying for passports have been issued with the new, more expensive, ePassport.

The document features a secure chip storing an image of the holder's face and "relevant biographical details" and costs 66 - a rise of 15.

The Lib Dems' Simon Hughes said the move would disrupt the lives of working people.

"Most people do not have the time or the inclination to have to travel, probably quite a long way from where they live...to keep the Home Office happy."

Are passport interviews a good way to combat identity fraud?
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How passports will be issued from April

Warning over ePassport microchips
07 Feb 07 |  UK Politics
Passport applicants face grilling
28 Jun 05 |  UK Politics

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