Kenya is set to roll out new chip-embedded passports for its citizens in a move that targets rampant forgery and impersonation of holders, the Immigration Department said on Thursday.
Gordon Kihalangwa who heads the Immigration Services Department, said the new passports – which will be loaded with the holder’s biometrics – will gradually replace the current travel documents.
The new features are meant to make it impossible for anyone to forge or duplicate a Kenyan passport.
“At the initial stages, we will allow a passport applicant, to choose between the e-passport and the ordinary Machine Readable passport,” Mr Kihalangwa said without disclosing the cost of the e-passport.
Besides the security features, the chip technology-enabled passports will enable holders’ travel itinerary to be automatically updated at any airport in the world and verification made real time through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
The ICAO management system integrates all e-passport information into its global public key directory, making it impossible for anyone to use a stolen passport or forge one.
Roll-out of the e-passports with a 10- year validity period marks the beginning of the end of the ‘analogue’ passports that have been in use since Independence and will see Kenya join 60 other countries that use e-passports.
Kenya is already using biometric identification technology in many critical areas such as banking to identify customers. The technology uses a fingerprint reader to identify customers.
In his Thursday ‘#AskImmigrationKE’ chat on twitter.com, Mr Kihalangwa said all applications for passports would be made online via the department’s portal on e-citizen.
Applicants will be required to pay fees through the department’s bank account and eventually hand in original birth certificates and other testimonials for verification.
He said the birth certificate and the other testimonials would be returned to the applicant once the passport is ready for issuance to the holder.
“The e-passport logo, which appears on the cover of the ePassport, is the international symbol for an electronic passport,” added Mr Kihalangwa.
Other features include, an integrated circuit (chip) with pages containing personal data found on a normal passport as well as biometrics of the passport holder.
“It also has a unique chip identification number and a digital signature to verify the authenticity of the data stored on the chip. You cannot edit or alter its contents,” he said.
The e-passport seeks to curb incidents where unscrupulous people use fake Kenyan passports to travel abroad raising fears of a security breach at Kenyan airports.
In late November, 2014 police stormed a private printing shop at Ngara where they arrested a businessman believed to have been involved in manufacturing fake passports. They confiscated 29 freshly made fake passports and also carried away all IT accessories as evidence.
The case is still pending in court.
German authorities were recently placed on high alert after several Kenyans were found to have entered Germany using fake passports.
Mr Kihalangwa said the new passports will facilitate faster clearance of Kenyan passport holders at all airports across the world where e-passport reader equipment is in use.
He said they will initially produce a limited number of e-passports with more ordered as demand grows.
In 2015, the government awarded an e-passport tender to a Pakistani government’s agency, the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), an independent and autonomous agency of the Pakistani Ministry of Interior, will develop the software that will be used by British firm, De La Rue to print the first 145,000 e-passports.
The director said the new e-passports will enable travellers to secure their personal identities against identity theft, enable fast identification of travellers, eliminate passport data skimming and provide regional identity for East Africans.
“The e-passport is highly secure, hence avoids passport reproduction and tampering,” he reiterated.
The e-passport development follows an East African Heads of State meeting deal that advocated for adoption of a uniform e-passport for Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.
The e-passport eliminates the need for an East African passport and an African passport which have been touted as future identification documents for the continent.
Since 2007, Nadra has been maintaining Kenya’s Machine Readable Passport System (KMRP) currently in use in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa Immigration offices.
E-passports the tech scene where Kenyans use mobile phones, the internet and cashless payment systems as part of their daily lives.