Two Hundred Questions To Get Your Passport

First-time passport applicants aged over 16 will face a list of up to 200 personal questions when compulsory interviews are introduced later this spring. Hundreds of thousands of people, mainly teenagers, will be grilled about their lives by a Government official in a dry run for the introduction of ID cards.

Under detailed plans published yesterday, people applying for their first adult passport must attend an “authentication by interview” at one of 69 centres around the country.

They will be expected to complete the usual passport application form before being called for what critics describe as “an interrogation”. This will involve a series of additional questions to establish their identity. Applicants will be asked about their ancestry, including the background of their parents, previous addresses, details about counter-signatories and other questions designed to establish a ”social footprint” of who they are.

Senior officials said the aim was to prevent fraudulent passport applications which lead to 10,000 documents each year being sent out to bogus claimants, including terrorists.

The interviews will start in Newport, Belfast, Peterborough and Glasgow before being extended across the country to cover some 600,000 people in the first 12 months.

Half of these will be young people aged 16 to 24 applying for their first passport.

It will not include children who already have their own five-year passports. The remainder will be British citizens or adults who have never had a passport.

Applicants are being advised to allow six weeks rather than the current three for their passports to be delivered.

No2ID, a group opposed to ID cards, said the interviews will be a huge inconvenience and pose a threat to the gap-year plans of thousands of students. Many young people may not appreciate that they have to go for an interview and if they fail they could face lengthy re-checks.

In genuine emergencies, limited validity passports can be issued without interview.

The offices will start to open in May and the system will be introduced gradually by post code area. Some will inevitably have long journeys to their nearest centre, though the Home Office said 50 per cent would live within 15 minutes.For people in the most remote locations, the interviews could be carried out over a secure webcam link. The interview will last between 10 and 20 minutes and will be conducted in a ”friendly and non-threatening manner”.

Bernard Herdan, the executive director of the Identity and Passport Service, said: ”This is not meant to be a daunting experience for people. We will seek to make it customer friendly.”

He said applicants will be asked to confirm facts about themselves which someone attempting to steal their identity may not know but to which the interviewers already know the answer.

Mr Herdan said there would be no pass or fail mark but officials would make a judgment on the basis of the whole interview whether an applicant was telling the truth.

If there are suspicions, further checks could be made. In some circumstances, police might be called.

Leaked briefings to advertising agencies who will be involved in major PR campaign to raise awareness of the new system have been told that one in four may fail. Because of the extra time needed for further checks, people who fail to get their passport in time could be forced to cancel trips.

Officials denied that the data gathered by the interviews – which will be recorded – would be kept in perpetuity.

The centres are a dry run for the introduction of the ID card, which will be linked to the issue of new passports. From next year, anyone applying for a passport will have their details added to the ID database. From 2009, everyone applying for a passport – either their first or a renewal – will need to attend one of these centres to have their fingerprints taken. This will affect about six million people a year and will require hundreds more offices to be opened.

The new checks and the addition of biometric data have pushed up the cost of a passport.

It is now £66 and will rise to over £90 when the ID card is added.

Joan Ryan, a Home Office minister, said the new system was justified to combat fraud, though this amounted to just 0.15 per cent of applications.

“Although precise figures are difficult to obtain, it appears that the level of attempted fraud is increasing and getting more sophisticated,” she said.

The Government cited the case of Dhiren Barot, an al-Qa’eda terrorist jailed for 40 years last December as the sort of applicant they wanted to prevent.

He had seven passports in his true identity and two further passports in fraudulent identities.