E-Passports Coming to India

The Indian government has decided to introduce electronic passports (e-passports), also known as biometric passports. Initial e-passports will go to diplomats and officials, , says R.R. Dash, chief passport officer and joint secretary in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. About 25,000 to 30,000 e-passports will be issued to this group beginning in October. Based on the experience gained from this pilot project, “we will start the process of issuing e-passports to Indian citizens by October 2008,” Dash says.

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Indian e-passport would look like an ordinary passport with an embedded electronic chip. The chip would contain the photograph, fingerprint and personal information of the holder so that the passport could not be duplicated. An e-passport is machine-readable, enabling quick processing at airports. The passport comes with a built-in security (biometric) feature, which comprises an integrated circuit (IC) embedded in the back cover that stores the data, including photo. These also make the passport tamper-proof. In ordinary passports, this data is typically displayed on the photo page.

Already, 35 countries have shifted to the e-passport system, and more countries are queuing up. The biometric passport is an offshoot of the 9/11/01 attacks in the United States and is reckoned as a foolproof method to check passport cheats in their tracks.

With almost 500 million passports in circulation and the cost of a single e-passport ranging between $8 and $15, it has opened up a huge market for information technology (IT) firms. Ashok Chandak, director, NXP Semiconductor India, is bullish about his company’s future. “We command market leadership in supplying ICs for e-passports. Around 85 percent of the developed countries adopting the electronic format are using NXP chips and identification systems,” says Chandak. India has 40 million passports and about 10 million are being added every year.

Gemini Traze RFID India is also looking forward to cashing in on the e-passport market. Pradhyumna Venkat, the company’s chief executive officer, has recently stated that his company has been talking to a few countries who are in the deployment stage of e-passports. Most of these are in Europe. “We are also looking for tie-ups with local partners in these markets.” Venkat believes that the e-passport market is huge but will take another three to four years to mature.

M. Vidyasagar, executive vice-president and head, Advanced Technology Centre of TCS in Hyderabad says: “Our company had already developed an integrated solution in this regard including hardware. We will either implement the software or provide machines that support it depending on the order placed by an airport authority.”

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