Due to having an Israeli stamp in my passport and needing to fly on Qatar Airways (for our honeymoon), I was advised to get a new passport. (Either the airline or the country, in which I have to make a change, presumably believe I’d be working for Mossad.) The requirements for renewing a passport aren’t onerous, but the new passport will be a ‘biometric’ passport.
What does this mean? I don’t know about you, but I expected them to need my finger print at the very least, or in other wilder scenarios I imagined them scanning my iris or sequencing my genome from a hair (okay, maybe not quite yet).
But it means none of this. All it means is that they’ve encoded my photo into a digital format on the passport. It’s contained in a chip that can be read electronically and from a short distance (like RFID) and is supposed to aid facial recognition software.
A little statistic for you; two years ago the Home Office published an accuracy figure of 69% for facial recognition software (see The Register). I don’t know the details of the study, but that’s conceivably 3 in 10 people being pulled out of a queue to be checked manually. On the flip side, it could mean 70% of people (carrying ‘biometric’ passports) get automatically passed through passport control thus speeding exit from an airport and reducing the number of staff required to process people. Of course, I do wonder what the false positive rate is?
Incidentally, if you’re in the business of needing to match faces to photos, it looks like employing a woman to do the job is your best bet. See http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn780
Anyway, my passport took under two weeks to be produced and now I’m looking forward to the honeymoon.