My passport finally expired and I was forced to get a new one. After much time spent meaning to fill out the form and apply for one I got around to it last weekend and incredibly my new one turned up this weekend. The first thing I noticed was that it now sports a much more up to date photo of me in it – you can see right what ten years does to you!
However, that wasn’t the most interesting thing I found about my passport. It turns out that I have one of these new-fangled biometric passports I’ve been hearing all about on the news. Apparently my photograph and the details on the photo page (my name, date of birth and so on) are written onto the chip so that you can wave the passport across a scanner and that information will just magically appear on a screen. The chip looks like this:
As an anti-fraud device it’s probably pretty good. The data is stored in an encrypted format (according to the leaflet) and can’t be written to again, so no changing the details. This means if someone steals your passport, while they may be able to put another photo on it, they won’t be able to change the details on the chip. Sounds cool.
But then I read the leaflet some more and came across the following section:
“From autumn 2006, we will interview all adults (people over 16) applying for a passport for the first time. In line with new European Union standards, we are also considering including fingerprints in biometric passports in the future.”
Now the first part is interesting as it’s likely to be an administrative nightmare and increase the time and cost of getting a passport. However, the second part unsettled me a little. If you want to live in some futuristic world where there’s no crime and everybody wears spandex, then you probably need the authorities to have everybody’s details: fingerprints, DNA samples and so on. This means that if a fingerprint is found at a crime scene, they can immediately tell who it comes from (since everybody’s prints are stored when they apply for a passport), then arrest them and freeze them in some high-tech prison facility. If you’ve got nothing to hide then you shouldn’t have a problem with it so the argument goes.
But for that the authorities would really need to have people’s best interests at heart, and as anybody who studies history knows, that is very seldom the case. All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But hey, I’ve got nothing to hide so maybe I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Until it’s too late!