ePassports Officially Launched

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Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon Brent Symonette goes through the process of obtaining an ePassport, which was officially launched Wednesday, December 5, 2007, at the Passport Office, Thompson Boulevard. Wellington Albury, enrolments officer at the Passport Office, is explaining the process.  (Photo: Patrick Hanna)

By: Lindsay Thompson

NASSAU, Bahamas – The Bahamas has officially launched the highly anticipated Machine Readable Passport, or ePassport, a move intended to increase protection against identity theft, heighten aviation security and combat illegal immigration.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon Brent Symonette, underscored the importance of such a document at an official launching ceremony held Wednesday, December 5, 2007, at the Passport Office, Thompson Boulevard.

‘The security of our identity and travel documents is of paramount importance to us. We
must ensure, therefore, that our passports and visas are resistant to fraudulent use, including the use of lost or stolen passports,” Mr. Symonette said.

“The Bahamas’ ePassport, Visa, E-Identification and Border Control Initiative is of significant national and international importance. It will enhance the security of our state and it is anticipated that, over time, it will ease the passage of our citizens throughout the world,” Mr. Symonette added.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), of which The Bahamas is a member, has mandated that, by 2010, all countries must be issuing Machine Readable Passports.

“By this initiative, The Bahamas will be ICAO compliant. We have had to and will undertake several actions and activities to facilitate our ePassport and Machine Readable visa initiative, and to ensure that our transition occurs as smoothly as possible,” Mr. Symonette said.

The modern passport is being upgraded from a simple paper document to a more secure one – with biometrics features including facial characteristics, and fingerprinting. Each passport holder is required to have a National Insurance Number in order to facilitate the new passport.

“This event signifies a new beginning as we now embrace, with much courage, modern technology and processes that will propel us further ahead in our endeavours to keep pace with our evolving global village,” Mr. Symonette said.

In 1994, the Government of The Bahamas began exploring the process of upgrading passports and other travel documents. On December 22, 2006, the Government signed a contract with Indusa Global, a Greenville, South Carolina-based information technology development and consulting firm, for an estimated $12.7 million to provide four systems to initiate the project.

They are as follows: an ePassport issuance system, a Machine Readable Visa system, an E-Identification issuance system (smart cards for holders of work permits, spousal permits, home owners residence permits, permanent residence) and a Border Control Management System.

Additionally, there is a supporting Key Management System for the generation and management of digital security keys for protecting and accessing the data stored in the passports and cards. This particular system is used to add security to The Bahamas passport chips and smart cards and forms the basis of authenticating that the ePassport and e-Ids are in fact issued by The Bahamas Government.

This is an integrated project involving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Immigration (Ministry of National Security) and the Data Processing Unit of the Ministry of Finance.

The project involved four phases of implementation. The first addressed the development aspects of the project, inclusive of systems analysis and product development. The remaining phases will commence mid-January and will progress through the end of July 2008.

During these phases, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will implement the ePassport System in the Passport Office, Grand Bahama, Administrators Offices in the Family Islands and the Overseas Missions. The implementation of the Visa Issuance System in the Counsular Division in New Providence and Overseas Missions will also occur in these phases.

“We anticipate that both the ePassports and Visa Issuance Systems will be fully operational by mid-2008. By that time, we expect to be able to fully service the 170,000-plus passport holders and 2,000 plus Certificate of Identity holders,” Mr. Symonette said.

“These persons will be able to apply for and be issued with an ePassport or Certificate of Identity at 19 stations throughout The Bahamas and at our Overseas Missions,” he added.

Also, he said that foreign nationals would also be able to apply for and be issued with machine-readable visas in New Providence and at the Overseas Missions. However, passport holders are being advised that they should continue to travel on their existing passports until expiration or until further notice.