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Biometric passport adoption trend grows amid data privacy, cost, issuance concerns

Biometric passport adoption trend grows amid data privacy, cost, issuance concerns

Multiple developments have emerged from different countries in recent days concerning biometric passports, from Pakistan announcing it has issued first copies of its new generation biometric passport to some top government officials and diplomats (but not the general public as yet), to Ghana saying it is transitioning from its current version of passports to biometric passports embedded with a microprocessor chip as a way of improving the security of the travel document.

Reports from Nigeria indicate the country plans to complete the digitization process of its biometric passport acquisition system by year end, as concerns about extortion and delays in issuing the credential to applicants are rife. Down in South Africa, the worry is about the new cost of obtaining the travel credential which is said to be high. Meanwhile, Philippine Airlines is under investigation over data privacy queries after airline staff used their mobile phones to take snapshots of passengers’ passports under unclear rules.

Pakistan biometric passport goes live, Ghana announces plans

According to Pakistan’s director general for immigration and passports, Yawar Hussain, the country’s new biometric passport will first be issued to top government officials and diplomats, and then for ordinary citizens much later, per Associated Press of Pakistan (APP).

To launch, the document has been delivered to two government officers and three diplomats, with assurances that issuance to all citizens will begin in the near future.

Hussain says the chip passport is designed with high security features and holders will easily be accepted by e-gates at airports around the world.

The official adds that the system will not only ease travel experience for travelers coming from countries with similar systems, it will also reduce fraud at border control points.

Meanwhile Ghana’s minister of foreign affairs and regional integration, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, says a new biometric passport with chip will be in place in the coming months, according to News Ghana.

She says unlike the current one, which already has biometric features, the new version being planned will have more security features which will make it very difficult for non-Ghanaians to obtain. It will link to the national identity system already underway.

Speaking as she visited some passport production centers in Accra, Botchwey said the contract for the new passport has already been awarded to a Ghanaian contractor.

She also talked about efforts being made by government to clear the backlog of passport applications, which she says is about 300,000.

End in sight for Nigeria passport digitization process?

The federal government of Nigeria says it plans to complete the digitization process for obtaining the biometric passport (or putting it online) by December as it continues its drive to weed out corruption from the passport application and delivery process, reports Tekedia.

Interior minister Rauf Aregbesola is quoted as saying that when the digitization process is completed, everything from pre-enrolment to payment, will be done online, except the capture of biometrics which will take place at physical centers.

“By December, particularly in the busiest passport processing centers, there will be no manual segment of the passport processing, every part of it will be digitized,” the minister is quoted by Tekedia as saying.

That the passport acquisition process is not fully digitized is probably why citizens have still been complaining of extortion from touts and other corrupt passport officials in the system.

The House of Representatives has promised to investigate the many woes of the process.

Al Jazeera captures this situation in a feature article, highlighting how applicants are made to wait for months without their passport being delivered because they cannot pay extra money for expedited delivery.

The article also mentions issues of delays which often arise from alleged shortage of booklets which sometimes turns out to be hoarding, administrative red tape, as well as other acts of systemic bribery and corruption.

This phenomenon is common both at passport production centers in Nigeria and those abroad, the outlet states.

Fees jump in South Africa, Philippine Airlines in passport data issues

From 1 November, new fees will come into force for South African passports, with ordinary passports seeing a fee increase of 50 percent, reports Business Tech.

Per the changes, an ordinary passport which has cost R400 (US$22) since 2011, will henceforth be obtained at R600 ($33).

Diplomatic passports which were hitherto free will now be issued at R600 ($33).

Replacing lost, stolen or damaged passports could also attract an extra fee of R100 ($5), the tech publication mentions.

Other travel documents such as crew certificates and the larger, 48-page passport format, have also seen significant fee increases.

South Africa is in the process of upgrading its passport system after many reported incidents of passport-related fraud where foreigners have been caught with South African passports.

Meanwhile, officials of Philippine Airlines have been called out over a practice where staff take the photographs of passengers’ passports using their personal phones.

The alarm was raised on Twitter by passenger Caria Metis who said she was asked for her passport snapshot while she travelled to Toronto via a transit in Manila, reports AeroTime. Staff photographed her passport and then sent that image to Philippine Airlines via WhatsApp.

The incident is said to have attracted the involvement of a Data Ethics PH, a group that works on the ethical use of data in the Philippines. The airline says the issue is being handled.

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