11/18/98: State Department Issues A New, More-Secure U.S. Passport Featuring Digitized Imaging


U.S. Department of State

Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release
November 18, 1998


The State Department Issues A New, More-Secure
U.S. Passport Featuring Digitized Imaging

On November 16, the State Department introduced a new U.S. passport featuring a digitized photograph and data page. The first one was issued at the National Passport Center in Portsmouth, NH. This represents the most important improvement in passport technology in 17 years. This innovation vastly enhances the security of the passport. Having a computer-generated image of the bearer in the passport makes it much less vulnerable to photo-substitution. (Photo-substitution is an illegal technique used to replace the picture of the legitimate bearer with that of an impostor.) Identity fraud is considered one of the fastest growing types of crimes perpetrated on innocent victims each year.

In 1997, about 15,000 of the more than 6 million U.S. passports issued were reported stolen by American citizens while traveling abroad. Many of these stolen passports are then altered and used to commit financial crimes or used by criminals to smuggle drugs or by aliens trying to gain illegal entry into the country. Photo-substituted passports have also been used by terrorist organizations. Criminal organizations charge up to $30,000 for expertly altered passports and even provide specialized training to their "clients" to help them impersonate the legitimate bearer.

The new U.S. passport also contains a number of anti-counterfeiting features in the data page, including security film with a multi-colored multiple diffraction-grating image, similar to a hologram, to protect both the digital photo and the personal data. Microline printing (in the form of wavy lines) is being added behind the photograph to serve as another deterrent to counterfeiting.

Production of the existing version of the passport will be phased out gradually. By late 1999, all domestic passport agencies will be equipped to produce the new passport. In the interim, both versions of the passport will continue to be issued domestically. Bearers of the passport now in circulation will not be required to exchange it for the newer version. Our embassies and consulates abroad will continue to issue the old-style passports. We are currently studying the feasibility of converting these overseas posts to the more technically complicated, photo-digitization system.

For more information about applying for a passport, access the Consular Affairs' Bureau Web site at http://travel.state.gov. At this site, you can also download passport application forms and receive information about the over 4,500 convenient locations to apply for a U.S. passport. Another option for information, forms, and to check the status of already submitted applications is the National Passport Information Center, 1-900-225-5674 or, with a major credit card, 1-888-362-8668.

The National Partnership for Reinventing Government has designated State's Bureau of Consular Affairs a High Impact Agency, that is, an agency that serves a large number of Americans. Visit the agency's Year 2000 Reinvention Goals at http://travel.state.gov/goals_2000.html. The National Passport Center is a 1996 Hammer Award winner.

At the special briefing for the press on November 16, officers from Passport Services and the Office of Fraud Prevention Programs provided details on the enhanced security features of the new passport, answered questions, and allowed interested reporters to examine samples of the new passport to see the technology up close. One of the reporters in attendance had applied for a first-day issuance and received his new passport at the end of the briefing.

For more information, contact Elizabeth B. Soyster at soystereb@state.gov

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