DIA quells security fears on eve of online passports move

In a move the Department of Internal Affairs says is a world first, New Zealand adult passports can be renewed online from tomorrow

The introduction of online passport renewals will help reassure New Zealanders that the government is committed to moving to a digital environment as part of its plan for "better public services", says Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain.

Following the recent security breach involving kiosk terminals at the Ministry of Social Development, opposition MPs questioned the timely achievement of the goal that "by 2017 an average of 70 percent of New Zealanders most common transactions with government will be completed in a digital environment", especially against a background of public-service cost-cutting. This led Prime Minister John Key to defend the objective.

The online passports move, accompanied by a reduction in the fee for adult passports, comes at a time when wide-ranging security checks are being conducted of all publicly exposed government systems, as a consequence of the MSD breach.

The minister and David Philp, general manager of passports at DIA, were questioned closely on security at a launch of the online system in Wellington yesterday. They assured media that the department and an "external expert provider" have completed robust security testing and have assured the system is secure.

Online application will be made through the applicant's own internet connection, using an https link, and will require an igovt logon, the standard method of identification for dealing online with government agencies. The applicant is asked to provide a digital photograph, taken by them or a professional photographer according to strict guidelines, and this is checked by face-recognition software against the photograph in the existing passport record. A CAPTCHA check at a crucial point of the process, requiring the applicant to retype text presented in distorted form on the screen, provides further assurance that a human, not an automated program, is making the application, Philp says.

To the DIA's knowledge "there is no other country where passport applicants can renew their passport entirely online," says a printed statement supplied at the launch.

The fee for an adult passport is currently $153.30, including GST. From Friday November 2, this will drop to $140 for a first-time application, $134.50 for a renewal through a printed form and $124.50 for a renewal online.

First-time passport applications will not be available online, because some identity checks must be conducted manually and statements physically signed, the DIA statement says. A renewal application draws on information already held by the passport office.

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