|The UK Passport Service (UKPS) has confirmed plans to put biometric chips into passports by 2005.
In its Corporate and Business Plan 2003-2008, the agency said that developing a passport card, improving electronic application channels and rolling out new databases to improve security are some of its key tasks.
The UKPS plans to run a six-month trial with a systems integrator to "evaluate issues around biometric capture using iris, facial recognition and fingerprints to support the passport card development programme".
According to its list of main projects, biometrics/chips in passports are due to be delivered in 2004-5.
The agency also said that, subject to demand, it expects to launch a passport card in 2005 containing "up-to-date security and fraud prevention features".
The UKPS claimed that this opens up other possibilities. "The proposed introduction of a number of initiatives such as passport cards requires the UKPS to examine how it stores data on passport holders, linked in part to the IT strategy review," it said.
"The feasibility of storing data on a person-by-person, rather than a passport-by-passport, basis will be looked at early in the life of this plan."
At the moment, online passport applications received via the website are only partly electronic; the completed form has to be printed and returned to the customer for signature.
The UKPS said that it plans to launch new application routes integrated with its back-office processing.
An 'Omnibase' global database of all passports issued will be created, along with a global lost, stolen and recovered passport database, which is due by the end of this year.
The UKPS also wants to extend the sharing of data with other government agencies and the private sector.
"Data sharing will enable existing identity validation processes to be improved, with stolen identities being more easily recognised," it said.