Face-to-face interviews planned for all passport applications

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The Independent Online

Passport officials have defended a new face-to-face interview system for passport applications, saying they will be an invaluable tool in fighting identity fraud. Critics had said the checks, to be introduced for new applicants from April, would pose a "major threat" to individual liberty.

From 2009, the scheme will be extended to those renewing lost, stolen or expired passports.

There are 600,000 applicants for passports each year. The new rules require anyone requesting a passport for the first time to be interrogated about their personal details. Opponents claim the policy is a back-door means to gather data for use with the Government's controversial identity card scheme.

But James Hall, the chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service, said it was a necessary "inconvenience" that would stop criminals stealing identities: "We all as citizens recognise we have to be inconvenienced by airport security but it's in our collective benefit." The questions were "not particularly intrusive", he said. "We may ask the applicant if they had a mortgage and if so with which company."

Campaign group NO2ID dismissed Mr Hall's justification as "tripe". The national co-ordinator, Phil Booth, said: "The only reason your private life is to be raked over by officials in this way is to collect and connect all official information about you for the National Identity Register. The real message is clear: if you want to travel, you are a suspect."

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