Tomorrow's passport today

A new kind of passport is being issued to Australian citizens.

The electronic passport - or ePassport - represents a major shift in passport technology, with the introduction of computer chips and biometrics.

The move to the ePassport is about making sure that people applying for and using passports are who they say they are. It is about keeping your identity safe.

From 24 October 2005, eligible applicants for new or renewed passports will be issued with the ePassport. All passports with a machine readable zone issued prior to 24 October remain valid. You do not need to obtain a new passport until your existing one expires. It will be accepted in all countries, including the US under the visa waiver program, for the duration of its validity.

Research and development on the ePassport began in 2001 and Qantas cabin crew were the first Australian travellers to test the passport in 2005.

Australia is not alone in developing an ePassport - countries the world over are heading in this direction.

Compliance with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization will ensure that every country’s ePassport can be used in every other country.

Biometrics explained

A biometric system is an automated means of recognising someone by measuring a distinguishing physical trait.

Australia’s ePassport uses just one physical trait - the face. The information needed to generate the facial biometric information comes from the photograph supplied with the passport application. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade digitises the photograph you supply with your application. The digitised photo is stored in the passports database and in a computer chip in your ePassport. Using biometric technology, the passport photo can be digitally compared with another facial image to check that the two images are of the same person. The passport photo is used for identity verification and fraud detection.

Photograph Quality

As the biometric passport uses your photograph to generate the biometric information it is essential that you provide photographs that comply with the recognised international standards. Refer to the photo guidelines included on the application. These guidelines will help you provide suitable photographs so that your application is not delayed by having to submit new photographs in the required format.

Inside the chip

Your digitised photograph is stored on an Integrated Circuit Chip embedded in the middle pages of your ePassport.

The chip also stores your name, sex, date of birth, nationality, passport number, and the passport expiry date. This is the same information that appears on the printed data page of every passport.

The computer chip is contactless allowing information to be read without connecting wires.

Identity fraud

The ePassport’s biometric technology provides even greater protection against identity fraud at two stages: when a passport is issued and when it is used.

When an ePassport is processed, the photograph provided by the applicant is matched with images from any Australian travel document they've previously held.

The applicant's photograph is also matched against images held in the Australian passport database to ensure the person has not applied for a travel document in another name.

In the future International border control points will offer ePassport processing.  Until this is available, they will process ePassport holders in the same way as non-biometric passports. When the automated system checks become available, the photograph stored in the ePassport will be compared against live images of the passport bearer.

This ensures that the bearer is the person to whom the passport was issued and that the information on the chip has not been tampered with.

Securing your information

The biometric chip and the electronic equipment used to write and read the chip have been manufactured to the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). As an ICAO Council Member, Australia played a prominent role in the development of these standards.

Only authorised officers in the Australian Passport Office will be able to write your personal information on the chip in your passport. The ePassport incorporates security features to prevent anyone from changing or accessing information stored on the chip. ICAO protection of the data is obtained through use of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) (digital signature) technology. The use of PKI provides assurance to the reader that data on the chip was put there by an authorised entity, is complete and has not been changed.

Some media reports have claimed that the unauthorised reading (or ‘skimming’) of the biometric chip will pose a privacy risk to ePassport holders. To eliminate this risk, Basic Access Control (BAC) has been implemented on each chip which allows only coded access by authorised personnel to the chip's biographical data.


The introduction of the ePassport is as much about protecting the privacy of passport holders as it is about strengthening the integrity of the passport issuing process.

Your passport is a vital tool in proving your identity. By combating identity fraud, the ePassport protects your passport information from misuse.

In addition, strict guidelines control how the department uses the information you supply with a passport application.

The Privacy Act 1988 prohibits government officers from collecting, using or disclosing your information except in the performance of their duties.

It obliges the department to take all reasonable steps to protect your information against loss, misuse, unauthorised access, modification or disclosure.