Tuesday, July 16, 2013


So the Irish passport is going biometric, whatever that means. When I first heard it I had visions of my upcoming passport renewal involving a personal visit to some wired up room in the Passport Office, where I would be given a lie detector test and the retina of my eyes would be scanned into heavily enrcrypted digital coding.

When the time came, however, it appeared to be just more of the same. Fill in the form, get 4 photos and have two of them endorsed at the local Garda station, make sure to send in the current expiring passport, and of course pay up. Nothing new here, or so it appeared.

Then came the phone call from the Passport Office. "Oh, am I in trouble?" says I, with visions of Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning alternating with all the derogatory names I had called Obama over the last few years.

"Yes, but nothing serious" came the reply, from a very civilised and friendly young lady. "There is glare on your glasses in the photo and we can't do the biometrics."

Fortunately she said I could just send in two more, unendorsed, photos without the glare and all would be well. I thanked her and headed for the nearest chemist.

Their effort was not a success, and the glare from the flash persisted. Normally you could turn your head a little sideways to deflect the flash, but not anymore. Now they had to see the whites of your eyes head on. And, no, I could not take my glasses off.

I eventually ended up in a One Hour processing unit and this guy knew what he was at.

"Take your glasses off, and put them back on, but keep the sides well above the level of your ears." And, indeed, it was that little tilt that squared the circle.

Now the nice lady will look deep into my eyes and see my soul.

And process my application.

As I sent in the extra photos, I wondered if I could get a job training those people in chemists who take passport photos for the new biometric age, using the tip I picked up in the One Hour place.

Might just be a gap in the market there.


The passport arrived in the post, and I went looking to see what was biometric about it.

The first thing that had struck me when I saw pictures, such as the one at the top of this post, of the front cover, was to wonder if that little thing at the bottom was a chip of some sort. I still don't know the answer.

Click for larger image
Some personal details redacted

Otherwise the passport looked just like the previous one.

Then I noticed a certain roughness at the centre of the page illustrated above, and the same roughness in the corresponding position on the underside of the page. There was nothing to be seen though.

Intrigued I held the page up to the light and what did I see?

Me, as illustrated below (pinhole version)

Click for larger image

I sincerely hope that everyone who has renewed their passport since the onset of this biometrics thing finds the same.

I'd hate to think the NSA were sticking pins in my effigy.

Now I come to think of it. I have been feeling a bit off these last few days.

Ah well.


me said...

They're doing biometrics from photographs?? I'm going to look up 'biometrics', because it looks as if I'm dreaming ...

"In information technology, biometrics refers to technologies that measure and analyze human body characteristics, such as DNA, fingerprints, eye retinas and irises, voice patterns, facial patterns and hand measurements, for authentication purposes."

Measure and analyze. Well, I suppose the measure part could (possibly) be done from photographs but analyze? Like how?

It's not that I'm in favour of biometric data being held on all of us ... it's just that I don't understand this blog story.

Póló said...


Like I said, I expected to have to appear in person for a scan, but they are doing it by proxy via the photos.

This might just be understandable if they were working on full size digital images, but these are ordinary wee hardcopy passport photos.

While it is, correctly, described as biometrics, it must perforce be of the crudest kind and quite possibly subject to serious errors.

We may get some idea of how useful it is when it is in use for a while and if we can persuade the NSA to release the data. :)

I think the analysis bit in the definition of biometrics needs to be taken with a grain of salt in this case, though much purely descriptive material now passes for "analysis" in today's media.

Part of the reason for my posting this was to warn all speccy four eyes to "beware of the glare" and to draw attention to the possible scope for net employment creation arising from the advent of the "biometric" passport.

Póló said...

And, no. The little thing at the bottom of the cover is simply the logo for biometric.