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Singapore unveils biometric passport

The BioPass will be issued to government officials and airline crews, and will eventually replace traditional passports.

From August, all passport holders in Singapore can apply for new travel documents with additional security features designed for international standards.

The biometric passport, called BioPass, was unveiled Friday by the government. Each e-passport contains a polycarbonate page that is embedded with a contactless chip, carrying the owner's facial and fingerprint biometric identifiers.

According to Singapore's Immigration and CheckPoints Authority, the BioPass carries enhanced security features, such as multiple laser images, that are difficult to tamper with. Multiple laser images have been incorporated into Singapore identity cards since 1991. In addition, the cover of the BioPass carries the International Civil Aviation Organization's e-passport logo.

Wong Kan Seng, Singapore's Minister for Home Affairs, noted that the BioPass has achieved Level II certification under the United States' Visa Waiver Program, which requires participating countries to issue e-passports by Oct. 26 this year. "This means that tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have shown the BioPass to be in full compatibility with its passport readers," he pointed out.

Singapore, along with Australia, New Zealand and the United States, has been involved in an International Live Test since January. These trials are expected to be completed by April 15.

The BioPass will be issued to government officials and Singapore Airlines crew members from April 29, as part of a "careful and calibrated approach" in implementing the new e-passports, Wong said. Traditional passports will continue to be issued in Singapore until August, and according to ICA, can be used until they are due for renewal.

The ICA added that the price of the BioPass has yet to be confirmed, but a spokesperson did not deny that the cost could increase. Currently, citizens need to fork out 50 Singaporean dollars ($30.85) for a new passport if they submit an application via the Internet, or 60 Singaporean dollars ($37.02) when they apply directly at ICA's office.

Tan Boon Chin, executive director of NEC Solutions Asia-Pacific, a systems integration group, said that the chip and enhanced features "cost money." Therefore, he said, a BioPass "cannot be (offered at) the same price" as a traditional passport. E-passports with basic features cost about 20 percent to 30 percent more than traditional passports, Tan noted.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the cost of passports was reported to have increased by 18 percent after the country made the switch to biometrics.

Vivian Yeo of ZDNet Asia reported from Singapore.