Aim of this information
This information is designed to clarify what is actually disclosed on biometric passports when they are scanned by Immigration Control Officials and, in particular, whether details of your criminal record are revealed.
Why is this important?
There are many misconceptions about what criminal record information is held on a biometric passport. This can cause undue anxiety when travelling abroad and may sometimes deter people from overseas travel altogether.
The UK has been issuing ‘biometric’ passports (also known as ‘ePassports’) since 2006. These passports include a microchip which stores a digitised image of the holder’s passport photograph as well as the biographical details printed on the passport.
The EU has set minimum standards for passports which include the use of facial and fingerprint biometrics. The UK is not covered by these regulations and fingerprint biometrics are not included in UK passports.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation recommendations for biometric standards include a digitised photograph embedded on a chip in the passport. Countries wishing to stay in the US Visa Waiver programme have had to start issuing biometric passports in line with these international recommendations. For further information about the US Visa Waiver Programme see our Travelling to the US – Travelling without a visa.
What information does the chip contain?
The UK’s biometric passports contain a microchip with a ‘facial biometric’. This is a digitised image of the holders photograph. Various features on the face, for example the distance between eyes, nose, mouth and ears, are digitally coded from the photograph and the information stored on the electronic chip.
The chip also stores electronically, the biographical information which is printed in the passport. It does not contain any information which is not also on the face of the passport. The information printed on the passport can be checked against the information on the chip, which is intended to be harder to forge. The information on the chip is encrypted so it can only be read by special biometric passport readers (eReaders).
Should I be worried that information about my criminal record will be disclosed?
Details of your criminal record are not shown when your passport is scanned.
The only time your passport is likely to be ‘flagged’ is when:
- there is a warrant out for your arrest either nationally or internationally through Interpol
- you are currently undergoing investigation for a possible criminal offence
- you have been engaged in some kind of terrorist activity and/or on a Watch List
- you are on bail awaiting sentencing
- you are taking children out of the country without parental permission
Anyone on the Sex Offenders Register who has notified the police of their intention to travel may have a ‘Green Notice’ issued and ‘flagged’ via their passport. This Notice provides warnings and criminal intelligence about a persons criminal activities, where the person is considered to be a possible threat to public safety. The Notice should be removed at the end of the period of travel.
How can overseas immigration authorities find out about a criminal record?
The UK will only share information with another country about a person’s criminal record if a request is made by the country through the correct Interpol channels. Such a request would not be made (and wouldn’t be granted) unless there was suspicion of illegal behaviour.
The UK Passport Office state that this is only likely to occur if you commit a crime whilst in the country you have travelled to. For example, if you are apprehended by the local police for, say, a driving offence, robbery, assault etc, then they may check your criminal record in the UK. The correct legal channels would still need to be gone through.
For more information
- Practical self-help information – More information on travel can be found here.
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Learn more about this topic
- Travelling to the EU and the European Travel Information & Authorisation System (ETIAS)
- Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill (PCSC) – What does it mean for you?
- Working in the healthcare sector
- Sexual offence convictions: what you need to know
- Which cautions and convictions will be removed from a standard or enhanced DBS? – A brief guide