Passport Service trials use of private credit data in ID checks

The government is planning to use databases of personal information from government departments and the private sector to carry...

The government is planning to use databases of personal information from government departments and the private sector to carry out background checks on UK passport holders and applicants.

The Passport Service plans to link with credit reference agencies, whose databases contain details of the names and ages of residents at all UK addresses, phone numbers, county court judgements and addresses of employers.

Other identity systems will compare photographs of passport holders against photographs contained in watch-lists of suspected criminals and "high-risk individuals". These initiatives will pave the way for the introduction of biometric ID cards in 2007.

The plans are part of a crackdown on criminals and terrorists trying to obtain passports and driving licenses under false identities and will mean an expansion in government data sharing.

The measures taken by the Passport Service will be introduced across other government departments, said Bernard Herdan, chief executive of the Passport Service.

"Actions taken by the Passport Service to strengthen identity verification will be replicated as best practice by the DVLA and any other government organisation that wants to establish identities," he said.

Passport Service documents show that the government plans to give it new powers to carry out computerised background checks on passport applicants.

The powers will form part of the draft Identity Cards Bill, which is due out later this year.

The Passport Service plans to work with a private sector partner to create an identity verification service using commercial databases that will be made available to other government departments.

The verification service will provide rapid automatic checks into the address details and "social footprint" of people applying for passports and driving licences.

Trials are already under way with the Equifax credit reference agency, which maintains databases of the UK population. The Driving Vehicle Licensing Agency is running a pilot programme to check details of driving license holders against databases held by the Department of Work and Pensions.

The Passport Service plans to bolster the identity checks by calling in passport applicants for personal interviews - a move it said would reduce fraud.

The Home Office confirmed last year that the introduction of biometrics would be paid for by raising the cost of passports from £42 to £73 and driving licences from £38 to £73. But under the latest proposals, the public could have to pay for new passports every five years rather than every 10, effectively doubling the price.

The shorter lifespan off passports will match the expected lifespan of biometric chips and will enable the Passport Service to change technologies more frequently to deter counterfeiters.

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