02-17-2007, 04:56 PM
Joined: Aug 2006
New Passport Checks 'will Help Fight Fraud'
Quote:Face-to-face interviews for passport applicants will help fight fraud, officials insisted today amid claims that the checks posed a threat to individual security.
Anyone requesting a passport for the first time will be interrogated on personal details under new rules coming into effect from April.
Critics claim the policy is a back-door means to gather data for use with the Government's controversial identity card scheme.
But the head of the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) said the system was a necessary "inconvenience" that would stop criminals stealing people's identities.
And the Home Office said it would provide a "powerful weapon in the fight against passport fraud".
James Hall, chief executive of the IPS, told the BBC: "We all as citizens recognise that we have to be inconvenienced by airport security but it's in our collective benefit that we are.
"So I think people will recognise that it's 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."
The questions were "not particularly intrusive", he said, but had to be details no one but the genuine applicant was likely to know: "We might ask the applicant if they had a mortgage and if so with which company".
Although only a small number of fraudsters were trying to con the system, "we need to do everything we can to cut those off at source", he added.
New applicants - some 600,000 a year - will face the new procedure, and from 2009 millions more will be interviewed when it is extended to those renewing lost, stolen or expired passports.
The campaign group NO2ID dismissed Mr Hall's claims as "tripe". Its national co-ordinator, Phil Booth, said: "The IPS's own publications, even its own name, make it completely clear that it is a pretext to build the ID scheme.
"The only reason your private life is to be raked over by officials in this way is to collect and connect all official information about you for the National Identity Register."
The Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes was also critical.
"Most people do not have the time or the inclination to have to travel, probably quite a long way from where they live, probably during the working week when they have jobs to do, to be able to keep the Home Office happy," he said.
"The Home Office needs to calm down, back off and let people go about their lives in an efficient way - efficient for people, not efficient for the Home Office."
A Home Office spokesman said all data not required for the application form would be destroyed "shortly after the interview".
He said the UK was more open to fraud because it was one of the few western countries which did not require applicants to be seen in person.
Almost three-quarters of the 1,700 confirmed fraudulent applications last year were among first-time applications by post, he said, adding: "In combination with the introduction of enhanced background checks and biometric ePassports in 2006, the interview requirement will provide a powerful weapon in the fight against passport fraud."
All new applicants will face compulsory interviews
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