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Politics/Current Affairs

Want your first passport? Welcome to your passport interview

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007 at 11:40 by Sue Stewart

Are you a young person who’s never had your own passport? In fact, are you an old person who’s never had one, either?

Be careful, then, because if you want one, it looks like your chance to go through the usual process - sending off your form, waiting weeks, being told the delay’s your own fault for applying at peak time, then hearing that your form’s been lost - is going to get even more tortuous. The Identity and Passport Service are introducing interviews.

It’s nothing to be worried about, though. The scheme’s being introduced gradually, “starting with a limited service in April”. Well, that’s comforting - it wouldn’t do to shock us too much by introducing a wholesale change quickly and efficiently. All we’ve ever known is a limited service, after all.

The interview will be “conducted in a friendly manner, consisting mainly of asking applicants to confirm facts about themselves, which someone attempting to steal their identity may not know.” It should take about 30 minutes; it will take place at a venue not more than an hour’s travelling time from your home or workplace. (I can’t help noticing that it doesn’t mention how many hours you’ll have to wait before you’re interviewed, but maybe that’s just me being picky. I’m like that sometimes.)

All of that is according to the IPS’s website, which you’ll notice is quite neutral in its phrasing. Not so the IPS’s chief executive, James Hall, who blithely stated in an interview, “[Applicants] will be asked questions that only they know the answer to.” Really? In that case, how will the IPS know the answer to them? Huh?

The IPS will know because the questions won’t be of the “What did we do when we were 8, that no-one else knows about” kind. They will be of the so-called social footprint kind - the kind that comes from electoral registers, birth and marriage certificates, credit reference agencies, etc.

This is the kind of information that good fraudsters spend a lot of time and money getting hold of. Even mediocre fraudsters can get it - the whole idea is that it’s freely available, if you know where to look. All the interviews are going to do is bog the process down even more for the rest of us - and for the poor sods who are just trying to clear their desks every day.

The IPS don’t need to rush headlong towards ID cards by any other name. All they need to do is to carry out the checks that they’ve already got in place effectively. Actually checking the passports that are being used would probably be a good idea, too.

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