Is U.K.’s New Passport Design More Secure Than the Last?

The British Passport gets yet another revamp, in the name of security.


The U.K. Passport Office today released its latest iteration of the British passport, that once-blue, now Euro-burgundy booklet that lets British citizens into other countries. It’s got a whole host of enhanced features, which the Chief Executive of the Identity and Passport Service claims will beef up security and clamp down on fraud. But will it?

The 28-page passport includes a different drawing on every double-page spread that depict parts of the scepter’d isle. There are the White Cliffs of Dover, Wales’s Gower Peninsula, Ben Nevis mountain in Scotland, and Northern Island’s Giant’s Causeway. But where is a true-to-life depiction of our urban life? No beautifully sketched CCTV camera winking from above a doorway, no group of girls staggering out of a bar on a hen night, no birds-eye view of the crowds of consumers on Oxford Street on a Sunday afternoon? Ah, they missed a trick.

Anyhoo. This is the first passport redesign since biometric data was introduced to the travel documents, at the behest of Uncle Sam, and it’s costing us little people in Blighty around $400 million. It’s long been acknowledged that biometric data is hackable–earlier this year, Mossad is said to have cloned a bunch of British citizens’ passports in order to carry out the assassination of the Hamas leader in Dubai.

So, what’s new? Well, there are now two images of the holder–one at the front and one at the back of the book. (Apparently, it saves time when presenting the passport at the immigration desk of a foreign country, as most passport inspectors go to the front of the book first of all–the British model has previously had all the holder’s information at the back. Duh.) And they’ve embedded the RFID chip inside the passport cover, meaning that it’s harder for fraudulent types to fiddle with.

So, all of these measures might have tweaked the British passport’s anti-fraud credentials, but it’s probably the equivalent of buying a larger D-lock for your bicycle rather than a completely different kind of bike lock–it might slow a fraudster down, but it won’t stop him completely. What has always been the issue with biometric technology, however, is this: Hackers do not fiddle with the details on the chip in order to become another person. What they do is make an existing passport look like it belongs to someone else.

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.