Please download Chris Tremain's letter first before reading our response.
Hon. Chris Tremain
Minister for Internal Affairs
Private Bag 18041
3 June 2013
Dear Mr Tremain,
Thank you for your letter dated 15 May 2013.
Minister, you state that “… New Zealand passport validity was reduced from ten years to five years to improve passport security against fraud or counterfeiting…” and you mention that a five-year validity period “…keeps our passports difficult to counterfeit or fraudulently alter”.
· We understand the previous Labour Government reduced passport validity to five years without public consultation on 4 Nov 2005. Some members of the Government committee that considered the matter viewed that action as an abrupt reaction to the publicly noted misuse of New Zealand passports by foreign intelligence officers in 2004, in addition to the events of 11 September 2001 in the United States.
· The United Kingdom (UK) adopted similar biometric technology to that used in New Zealand passports in 2006. Media reports during that year (NZ Computerworld 27 Nov 2006) published an editorial indicating that your Department were not concerned about reports from the UK, that indicated that the radio frequency ID (RFID) chips their passports could be cracked with as little as 48 hours effort. The concerning aspect of NZ Computerworld’s article was that it was not only possible to access the information stored on the electronic chips, but subsequently make a clone. Despite the associated security issues identified, the position of Her Majesty’s Government remains unchanged, and they continue to issue British citizens with 10-year passports. Furthermore, in 2007, the Chinese authorities changed their policy to extend validity from a five year to 10-year biometric passport. Additionally, Canada, a fellow Commonwealth Realm, will introduce 10-year validity when their upgraded biometric passports are released in the middle of this year. As outlined above, since 2006, potential fraudsters have had the ability to obtain information from, and create clones of, NZ biometric passports within a 48-hour period.
· Using the logic that our passports should be valid for five years on the grounds of security, is a flawed argument – if it were the case, passports should only be valid for several months and redesigned each year, this, of course, is neither practical nor economically viable. The unfortunate reality is that, any person or state with access to a recent NZ passport, an RFID reader and a printing press capable of producing banknotes has the potential to produce fraudulent NZ passports, within months of a new design upgrade. The integrity of the document, in terms of security, lies with border control personnel that process travellers arriving at national borders, and ultimately remains with the reputation and perceived integrity the issuing authority.
Minister, you mention that: “…The New Zealand Passport is recognised as a trusted and secure world-class travel document allowing the freedom to travel to over 165 countries through visa-free or visa-on-arrival arrangements…”
· Visa free access is determined, primarily, by bilateral diplomatic agreements between nations. New Zealand, as noted by the Government has maintained good diplomatic relations, which has resulted in many visa-free or visa-on-arrival agreements being made prior to the introduction of the 2005 legislation. Since 2005, when five-year passports were introduced, very few countries became accessible visa-free to NZ passport holders.
· According to The Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index 2012, the UK has visa free/on arrival access to 167 nations and the USA has 166 nations, these nations have good diplomatic relationships with other states, and both nations enjoy visa free access to more countries than NZ does, despite having 10-year passports.
· The Danish Government issues 10-year passports to their citizens who, according to The Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index 2012, are able to access 169 countries visa free/on arrival – the most of any country in the world, therefore proving that visa free access has little to do with a nation’s passport validity period.
Minister, you argue that NZ Passport holders travel as “trusted travellers” and our passport becomes a “prized identity document for fraudsters and counterfeiters”
· It cannot be denied that New Zealand is perceived to be one of the world’s most trusted and least corrupt nations, according to the Transparency International Corruptions Perceptions Index 2012, NZ shares equal first position on that index with the OECD nations of Denmark and Finland. Most OECD countries either have 10-year passports, or are in the process of upgrading to 10-year biometric passports. OECD countries including, but not limited to, Australia, Austria, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Slovakia, Spain, South Korea, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States, all of which have 10-year passport validity. Moreover, as mentioned in my previous communication, NZ is a member of the Five Nations Passport Group, an inter-governmental group that develops passport best practice, the group consists of Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and the United States, these nations issue citizens with 10-year passports. NZ is the last remaining country in this group to refuse its citizens a 10-year passport.
· Passports from the UK, US and other OECD nations are equally prized identity documents for counterfeiters; however, the governments in member states continue to issue their citizens 10-year passports.
· We ask you to consider that every time a person transacts electronically they increase their potential to suffer identity fraud, for example through keystroke monitoring or using insecure websites. While legislation introduced in New Zealand, such as the Identity Information Confirmation Act 2012, helps to reduce identity fraud, foreign governments do not hold the same view. Further, in most circumstances, a national passport is usually the most guarded possession of travellers and kept safe and out of the electronic domain. A person is far more at risk losing their identity through stolen credit card or driving licence details or hacked iGovt account.
Minister, you say that “…the modern New Zealand Passport enables the use of facial recognition technologies such as SmartGate…” and “…facial recognition technology works more proficiently with recent photographs”
· It cannot be argued that the average adult face changes significantly within a 10-year period, SmartGate, by its very name suggests smart technology and SmartGate is facial recognition software technology that will only get better as time progresses.
· The Australian Customs Service also uses SmartGate technology to process passengers from Australia, New Zealand and they are currently trialling US passports. Australian passports are valid for 10-years, if this is the case, why has Australia not reduced their passport validity to five years so that SmartGate may work more proficiently aided by more recent photographs?
Minister, you mention that our ‘peer countries’ have “longer validity passports”... because they have “larger populations than New Zealand” and that by extending the validity of the passport “could mean that the cost of the passport would need to rise substantially in the medium term”
· Many OECD countries with 10-year passports have a population base very similar to our own, for example Ireland (pop. 4.4 Mil.), Norway (pop. 4.9 Mil.), Singapore (pop. 5.1 Mil.) or Denmark (pop. 5.5 Mil.) or even tiny Latvia with its 2.2 million individuals. Unfortunately, your assertion is incorrect because a sizable proportion of OECD countries, which produce 10-year passports, are of similar size to New Zealand.
· If a passport has the same amount of pages, and similar technology in it, how can it be more expensive? It is understandable for prices to increase, if NZ were to introduce a 70-page 10-year passport, for example. The NZ Passport Office is quite keen on meeting its ‘Better Public Services Result 10 Action Plan’ target of having 70% us apply for a passport online by 2017, surely less manual intervention in issuing passports on a less frequent basis results in greater government efficiency and fewer overheads?
· We note the New Zealand’s Passports are currently produced in Canada, and the New Zealand Passport Office considers itself a world-leader by making passport renewals more cost effective and convenient, what is stopping New Zealand from producing its own passport booklets? This, surely, would be far more cost effective, as negotiations for bulk orders of passport documents would be in New Zealand Dollars, as opposed to the, traditionally more expensive, Canadian Dollar. This point is particularly important in times of economic stress.
· We note that the Government somewhat embarrassingly collected tens of millions of dollars in surplus since forcibly introducing five-year passports on the New Zealand public in 2005. Your own Cabinet Paper issued on 19/9/2012, which was previously restricted, states that there was a Memorandum Account balance of $27.36 Million, surely some of that money could be used toward issuing 10-year passports in the medium term?
Minister, you mention that you are “…not convinced that a 10-year passport is necessary…” and that our points have been noted and that you will “…ask officials to consider them as part of your current review on New Zealand’s passport renewal policy”.
· You may not personally consider that 10-year passports are necessary. I would like to draw your attention to the considerable inconvenience of having to renew a passport every five years. Many New Zealanders, live abroad for family reasons, while others are on work contracts, or some volunteer at NGOs for long periods in developing nations that do not have the luxury of a postal or courier service, others reside in Europe. Wherever we are located abroad and for whatever reason, the previous Government has ensured that every 4.5 years we have to incur the additional expense and loss of time in order to transfer our visas or permits into a new NZ Passport. It’s is not surprising that that many born and bred New Zealanders that hold dual citizenship, have ceased renewing their New Zealand passports in favour of passports from their other country of citizenship, because of the needlessly short validity period imposed by the New Zealand Government.
· A large percentage of New Zealanders travel the bulk of their journeys on Trans-Tasman routes, perhaps a partial answer to the problem of producing expensive passport booklets, is to develop a Trans-Tasman ‘passport card’ with the Australian authorities, for those who only wish to travel between NZ and Australia. Over four years ago there were bilateral discussions between John Key and Kevin Rudd regarding easing up restrictions on the trans-Tasman route, and introducing a passport card would help ease travel restrictions between the two nations. Such cards would be similar to the ones used by citizens of the USA and Canada to cross the US/Canadian/Mexican/Bermudan/Various Caribbean borders. The cards could be produced at the Passports Office in New Zealand at a fraction of the cost of a full passport booklet and, like the US Passport Card shown overleaf, a New Zealand equivalent should also have a 10-year validity period. Many European Countries also use biometric identity cards, which contain a chip inside and may be used as a travel document within the EU. In Hong Kong, permanent and temporary residents alike, use the national Identity Card (HKID) in place of their passport to enter and exit the territory. According to the Hong Kong Government its land border control points process over 522,000 persons per day and are some of the busiest in the world. The number of passengers processed at land borders exceeded 190 million in 2011 alone. These figures do not include passengers using air or seaports. After the introduction of the biometric SmartID card in 2003 significant improvements were noticed in passenger processing times and the longevity of the identity document.
Minister, the supporters of Ten Year NZ Passports are pleased that you say you are asking officials to consider our points as part of your review. We ask that in your capacity as Minister, that you do all in your power to enable the Department of Internal Affairs to open this matter for public consultation and subsequent discussion. The very nation that prints our blank passport booklets, Canada, did that, and they will be introducing 10-year passports in July.
I look forward to your response.
CC: Hon. Trevor Mallard, Opposition Spokesperson for Internal Affairs