Passports go digital to beat counterfeiters

A digitally printed photograph and data; a special, ultra-thin plastic sheet that is destroyed if anyone attempts to remove it; digital holograms printed on top of it and a second, smaller photo visible under ultraviolet light but not to the naked eye – all this is very difficult to reproduce. These are some of the features of the new Greek passport, which will also make it one of the most counterfeit-proof. The new passports, whose security features have already been designed, will be produced as of July 1, 2005 when the Greek police force (ELAS) assumes responsibility for issuing passports. Ilias Samaras, the man in charge of creating the new Central Passport Service and providing a computerized system for the new passports on behalf of ELAS and the Public Order Ministry, spoke to Kathimerini in an exclusive interview. Samaras, a graduate of MIT and Columbia who has also studied at Harvard Business School, recently undertook to implement the same Toppan technology for the US, Canada and other countries. Buying a forgery When he took on the project of creating a new Greek passport, Samaras was aware of the pressure there was on Greece due to the ease with which its passports could be forged. He vowed to produce the most secure passport in the world. One of the first things he did was to get in touch with a gang of counterfeiters and buy a forged passport from them for 1.5 million drachmas (4,400 euros) to see how easy it was to fake the present Greek passports. He says that more than 70 million passports have been produced around the world using the Toppan technology and so far there has not been one case of forgery. What will the new Greek passports look like? For a start, they will be digital, meaning that the photograph and data will be printed by digital technology. That is the first difference between the new batch and the old ones. Apart from that, the photograph and identity data will not be printed inside the back cover, as they are now, but on the second page of the passport. This is believed to be more secure than the United States passport, for example, where the details appear inside the front cover. As Samaras notes, the cover is thick enough for someone to interfere with it by means of a laser, while a page is so thin that the slightest attempt to interfere with it will destroy it immediately. The concealed photograph, which is invisible to the naked eye, will be on the same page. A smaller version of the main photograph, it will be printed in ultraviolet ink and can be read by a special light beam used at passport control. The page will be covered with plastic, as it is now, but this sheet of plastic is extremely fine – less than 10 thousandths of a millimeter – and easily destroyed if tampered with. Digital holograms will be printed on top of the plastic sheet. To the naked eye, the holograms will look like simple lines, but they are actually words and phrases written in tiny letters which, Samaras explains, are an additional security feature because they may contain anagrams or deliberate spelling mistakes known to the authorities but not to forgers. Also printed on the plastic will be images from Greek culture over the ages, such as the Parthenon. Similar images will be printed on all the remaining pages of the passports, which will change color from the present maroon, probably to blue. Biometric data Once the European Union has decided to adopt a decision by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to include biometric data in passports, the second phase of the new Greek passports has made provision for that. The back cover of the passport will incorporate a microchip about 1 millimeter square. It will contain a photograph of the holder, a digital fingerprint, and a print of the iris. Those three are, in that order, the most secure biometric data, according to the ICAO. The microchip will be surrounded by wire mesh that acts as an antenna to a range of about 1 meter. This will allow detectors installed at airports to read the passport at a distance, even when the holder has it in a pocket or bag. The new passport’s resistance to forgery was exhaustively checked at the International Crime Research Directorate of ELAS and passed the test. Some of the security features in the new passport were used on accreditation cards for the Olympic Games in Athens.