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U.K. e-passports start their travels

Launch is gradual; passport holders won't be required to get biometric versions until current ones expire. Photos: New face of e-passports

The United Kingdom's first e-passports, which feature personal information stored on a chip, have been issued.

According to the U.K.'s Home Office, e-passports are now being issued by the Foreign Office in Washington, D.C. Offices in the U.K. itself are expected to start issuing them to applicants for new passports and renewals, starting in April.

In the early stages of the changeover, some people will receive a new biometric passport while others will receive a passport with existing digital identification. The switch is expected to be complete at summer's end.

The new passports contain a chip that holds a biometric facial image.

Other biometrics such as fingerprints and iris scans may be added to the passports at a later date. Beginning in 2007, first-time adult passport applicants in the U.K. will also have to attend an interview to confirm their identity.

Existing passports remain valid until their expiration date, and holders do not need to exchange them for biometric passports.

Countries that are part of a U.S. plan to waive visa requirements must begin issuing biometric passports that incorporate a facial image by October 2006.

Steve Ranger of reported from London.