By Van Meguerditchian
BEIRUT: The identity of travelers will be embedded in a small computer chip placed in the front cover of their passports as of 2014, in line with the International Civil Aviation Organization’s mandatory requirement for the adoption of biometric technologies by all member countries by 2015.
Lebanese who require new passports before the biometric documents are issued would be advised to apply for short-term alternatives until the “e-passport” goes into use in 2015, thereby avoiding spending large sums on passports that will become obsolete.
A new Lebanese passport with a validity period of one year costs LL60,000, while a five-year passport costs LL300,000.
“This change is necessary in light of continuing passport fraud around the world,” said Col. Hasan Ali Ahmad, head of the Information Technology Department at the Directorate General of General Security.
“We have asked the ICAO to assist us in the project and we have expressed our readiness to launch an international bid early next year to agree on the best companies to take on the task of printing the new passports,” Ahmad told The Daily Star in an interview.
The General Security official said that the government had agreed to proceed with the bid once the Interior Ministry received a detailed report by the ICAO on international standards for the e-passport.
Earlier this year, the government solicited a report from the Montreal-based ICAO, at a cost of $88,000, on how best to ensure the authenticity of a passport, said Interior Minister Marwan Charbel.
“We asked them to provide us with the most sophisticated options and maximum security for the new passport. Fraud will become an issue of the past,” Charbel said.
In the region, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Sudan, South Sudan, Qatar and United Arab Emirates have already introduced biometric passports.
Sitting behind his desk on the fourth floor of the French-era General Security offices in Beirut, Ahmad said the director of General Security Brig. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim believed that technology will definitely help the country’s security.
Ahmad said a biometric passport would carry a copy of the passport holder’s fingerprints inside the chip, which can be read by machines at borders around the world. “Passport fraud is still happening and this measure will make it almost impossible,” he added.
Ahmad added that companies joining the international bid next year will need to comply with the technical and administrative terms the Lebanese government and ICAO place.
“First there should be agreement on the technical terms and then we would discuss the cost of the printing that a foreign company or a company with a branch in Lebanon would carry out.”
The French state-run Imprimerie Nationale printing company issued the most recent Lebanese blue passports.
But Ahmad said the project would definitely carry a higher cost than the issuing of the current passports.
“The current passports cost $2 for the government; the new e-passports might cost $15,” said Ahmad. “The company that offers the lowest prices, we will probably choose it,” he added.