Chips within electronic passports are only guaranteed for two years, even though British e-passports are intended to last 10 years, according to the National Audit Office.
The NAO said that although the chips, which are designed to contain biometric data, have been tested in laboratory conditions, the ability of the chip unit to withstand real-life passport usage is unknown.
“The chip units have a two-year warranty but British e-passports are intended to last 10 years,” it said in a report.
“The Identity and Passport Service is keeping this issue under review.”
The Home Office said it had “every confidence” the chips would last.
The report also reveals that there was insufficient liaison between the Identity and Passport Service and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate about how e-passports would be read at border control.
“The Immigration and Nationality Directorate began testing the ability of electronic readers to cope with high volumes of e-passport checks in late November 2006,” the NAO said.
“If readers cannot cope, the full benefits of e-passports may not be realised.”
However the project was performing to budget, the NAO found. Total set-up costs, when the project closes in a few months’ time are expected to be £61m compared to a budget of £63m. The additional cost of producing the electronic element of the new passports is estimated at £195m between 2005/06 and 2010/11. To cover these costs, the fee for a standard adult passport went up on 5 October 2006 from £51 to £66 and for a child passport from £34 to £45.
Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, said, “The Identity and Passport Service used sound project management techniques and made effective use of technical specialists to ensure the e-passports project was delivered on time and UK e-passports meet international standards.
“However, the full security benefits of e-passports will not be realised until UK border control readers are fully upgraded, and it is only then that we will know the impact of this new technology on travellers.
“To ensure future projects deliver value for money, the Identity and Passport Service should aim to improve its engagement with other parts of government, and develop greater in-house expertise to reduce its reliance on external consultants.”
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