In Britain, if you renew your passport within nine months of its expiry, they’ll add that extra time onto your allotted ten-year validity. My passport was due to expire this December, so I applied for a renewal a couple of weeks ago.
This is the first time I’ve had a biometric passport, i.e. one that includes my personal data encoded on a chip embedded into the passport. I filled out the form, paid £4 for a set of four photos from a machine (Four quid! Someone’s having a laugh…) and took it to the nice lady at the Chipping Norton post office.
She pushed the photos back. “You have to take your glasses off.” But I can’t see without them, I said – and anyway I never take them off except when I’m asleep. Doesn’t matter: she was adamant the passport office wouldn’t accept them.
“It’s not about what you look like anymore,” she said. “It’s about how your eyes line up with your nose, and all the rest of it. Biometrics.”
So my new passport shows this bare-eyed stranger staring back at me. Perfectly fine for passing through high-tech border controls where they swipe your passport through a machine-reader, scan the chip and barely glance at your face.
But what about the other 95% of border controls around the world, where the only technology is a knackered old PC (if you’re lucky) and/or a dog-eared ledger for writing down names and passport numbers? They’re going to look at the photo, look at me, look at the photo again – and, well, guess what I’m going to be asked several times a year for the next decade?
“Please take off your glasses.”