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St. Kitts Issues E-Passports

When people think of this exotic island located on the edge of the Caribbean, they likely picture white-sand beaches, cerulean waves, and Oceanside cabanas complete with hammocks for afternoon napping and plenty of fruity cocktails to sip.  You might imagine climbing to the top of a still-active volcano, zip-lining over the inland rainforest, or seeing the abundant marine life up close with a scuba tour.  In short, it brings to mind an island paradise that serves as a restful retreat from the outside world.  So one thing that you probably never consider when it comes to this sunny island locale is the security measures in place to ensure the safety of locals and tourists alike.  And it seems that the island authorities are using the technology of the future to stave off the very real threats of identity theft and the fraudulent activity it leads to.

Unfortunately, their efforts won’t be of any immediate use to tourists, so visitors should still keep identification and credit cards tucked away in hotel safes and money belts.  But for those who have the privilege to live in St. Kitts year-round, the passport system has gone high-tech with the introduction of e-passports.  And they’re a lot more impressive than they sound.  At first you might think that you simply order them online (skipping all of the hubbub generally associated with securing or renewing a traditional passport), but unfortunately this isn’t the case.  What gives them the “e” (as in electronic) is the smart card technology they employ, by way of a microprocessor chip embedded in the physical passport.

Residents of St. Kitts may not actually see a difference in the passport they receive.  It will still have the standard 32 pages and all the personal information (photo, full name, and so on) that it has featured in the past.  But thanks to the embedded microchip it will also have this information stored in digital files (for quick scanning at security checkpoints) and it could even contain biometric identity information, including retinal scans, facial recognition, and fingerprint data to be used by security agents looking to authenticate someone’s identity.  Although this level of tracking and verification may sound a bit Orwellian, it also provides a much bigger challenge for any unscrupulous parties looking to steal an identity.

While criminals will almost certainly find ways to fake these passports, the truth is that the cost and effort involved should stop garden-variety thieves from making use of any e-passports they manage to steal, meaning that user identity is far more likely to remain secure should a passport be lost (through negligence or theft).  And anyone looking to get or renew a passport in St. Kitts will receive the e version from here on out.

Of course, the new scanner machines won’t mean much to travelers, who are probably more concerned about whether or not they can use their best airline miles credit cards during their trip.  But if this system works well in St. Kitts, it may be only a matter of time before countries across the globe begin employing the same technology.  In fact, some already have.  So don’t be surprised if you see more e-passports popping up in a country near you (or even closer to home).