What is passport photos in electronics?
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By the year 2005 the faces of half the adults in Britain will be stored in a national government database.
The Home Office has announced that from October next year photographs in new passports will be digitised and stored electronically. The old system of laminating a photo into a passport will be replaced by a computer~stored image printed on to the passport.
The Home Office says the new passport will be quicker to process and more resistant to tampering but security experts have reacted with some concern. They say the use of digitised facial images in a central database could create a new set of privacy threats similar in magnitude to those that arose with the development of digital telecommunications.
A spokesman for the Home Office said the system would be operated in strict accordance with the Data Protection Act an assurance that was repeated by Kevin Sheehy deputy chief executive of the Passport Agency. But John Woulds assistant data protection registrar said: "We`ve not been consulted formally or informally about this."
Woulds said the project was "in a different league" to most other databases and his office would have expected some consultation with the Government.
"There will be particular privacy problems associated with this database. Images are not equivalent to standard data."
The Home Office defended the lack of consultation on the grounds that the Data Protection Act and the Official Secrets Act were mentioned in the Passport Agency contract with suppliers and contractors "and these were the safeguards built into it".
One major concern for defenders of privacy is the potential to match the passport images with photos from existing police databases and closed circuit television systems.
The new system will be available on a restricted basis to other departments.
Sheehan said 3 to 5 million photo images together with related data (personal and family details) would be stored each year on a single database. This will result in the creation within 10 years of a searchable archive of 35 to 40 million people.
sunday times 20 jul 97