Stop ID cards and the database state

Database accuracy: UK Passport Service

On 26th January 2005, Ann McKechin MP wrote in a letter

There are hundreds of government computer systems which work well eg. Vehicle Licensing but don't attract media attention as a result.

The letter was in reply to some concerns that I had raised about the government's proposals to introduce ID cards and the National Identity Register. In response to this letter, I requested information (using the Freedom of Information Act) from the UK Passport Service for an estimate of the accuracy of their database:

I would like to know how accurate the UK Passport Agency database is believed to be, i.e. what percentage of the data held is believed to be inaccurate?

Their initial reply was not as helpful as the reply I received from DVLA to a similar request about the accuracy of the vehicle licensing database. UKPS refused to answer:

Dear Mr Bevan

Thank you for your request for information about Data Accuracy on the UKPS database. I am dealing with it under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

I regret that we cannot supply you with the information that you have asked for, as to comply with your request would exceed the cost limit beyond which we are not required to supply information. The UK Passport Service is not obliged to comply with any information request where the prescribed costs involved in supplying you with the information exceed £600. This limit applies to all central government departments and is based on work being carried out at a rate of £25 per hour, which equates to 3½ days work per request. Prescribed costs include those which cover the cost of locating and retrieving information, and preparing our response to you. They do not include considering whether any information is exempt from disclosure, overheads such as heating or lighting, or disbursements such as photocopying or postage.

Despite the fact that we are not able to process your request as it currently stands, we would like to assist you. Although your request would at present be too costly to answer, if you refine it so that it falls under the cost limit we will be pleased to consider it further.

The first point to make is that the main database for the UKPS holds around 70 million records of information on passports and passport numbers and is not person centric. In addition, we do not ask passport applicants to keep their address given at the time of the application up to date throughout the 10 year life of the passport. The database is a totally accurate view of what appears on a particular passport book. Work is only just starting to take a person centric view of that data and when that happens the information you have requested will become available.

There is information on the number of books that get returned because the holder has identified inaccuracies and we will provide that if you wish but I do not feel that is what you are after.

If I can be of further assistance you can contact me on my email address. As you are aware if ultimately you are dissatisfied with the response you have received from us may request an independent internal review of our decision by submitting your complaint to:

Private Office,
6th Floor
UK Passport Service Headquarters
Globe House
89 Eccleston Square

Should you remain dissatisfied after this internal review, you will have a further right of complaint to the Information Commissioner.

Yours sincerely
UKPS Technical Services Manager

Following the internal review that I requested, they sent me the following reply:


9 May 2005

Dear Mr Bevan

We have reviewed your original request for information and our reply, and have concluded that we have misapplied the cost limit approach. Please accept my sincere apologies for this.

To answer your original information request, we have a main database of 70 million records of information on passports issued to British nationals resident in the UK, and abroad since 1991 and the associated passport numbers. These records are of valid passports, cancelled and replaced passports. Although we have not done any special sampling exercises or specific surveys, we believe that in terms of the total number of passports in circulation the database has a very high degree of accuracy. As you would expect in a database of this size there are certain gaps but we are aware of them, and what information they cover. We are satisfied that the record of passport numbers is 100% accurate.

The database is not person centric but as you may have seen from our recently published Corporate and Business Plan 2005-2010, we have plans to make it so. Notwithstanding this, on the basis that the personal details on the database of the passport holder, namely full name, place and date of birth are the same as shown in the passport, we are also satisfied these details are fully accurate.

As generally we only see our customers every 5 years (children) or every 10 years (adults) we do not ask them to keep their addresses up to date, so our record of addresses whilst in the short term fully accurate will degrade over time. We have only been collecting address information since we commenced issuing digital passports in 1998. So only about 50% of the database will have address information associated with the passport record.

I hope this fully answers your request, but if I can be of further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me.

If you remain dissatisfied with this response, you may request a further review by writing to
The Information Commissioner
Information Commissioner's Office
Water Lane
Yours sincerely

Chief Operating Officer

So there we have it - the passport agency have an accurate list of numbers and believe that they are aware of all the gaps in their data. Clearly there can be no possibility of falsely obtained passports existing in the UK. Hopefully the UKPS has not been heavily involved in feasibility studies for the National Identity Register.

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Stop ID cards and the database state

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