The front cover of a British biometric passport issued since 2006.
|Date first issued||1915 (first 'modern' passport)
6 February 2006 (biometric passports)
5 October 2010 (current version)
|Issued by||United Kingdom|
|Type of document||Passport|
|Eligibility requirements||British citizenship or any of the various forms of British nationality|
|Expiration||10 years after issuance for individuals aged 16 and above; 5 years for citizens up to the age of 15|
|Cost||£72.50 (adult 32 pages) / £85.50 (adult 48 pages) / £46.00 (children under 16) / free (born on or before 2 September 1929)|
British passports may be issued to people holding any of the various forms of British nationality, and are used as evidence of the bearer's nationality and immigration status within the United Kingdom or the issuing state/territory. In 2014, British citizens had visa-free or visa on arrival access to 174 countries and territories, ranking the British passport 1st in the world (tied with Finnish and Swedish).
- 1 Issuing
- 2 Visa requirements
- 3 History
- 4 Physical appearance
- 4.1 Passports issued by Her Majesty's Passport Office
- 4.2 Passports issued by the Crown dependencies and Gibraltar
- 4.3 Passports issued by the British Overseas Territories
- 5 Multiple passports
- 6 Endorsements
- 7 Abandoned plans for "Next Generation" biometric passports and national identity registration
- 8 References
In the United Kingdom, British passports (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) are issued by HM Passport Office. In conjunction with the Post Office, it is possible to submit most passport applications at a number of branches.
In British overseas territories, British Overseas Territories Citizen passports are issued by the Governor of the territory, whilst British Citizen passport application are forwarded to the Passport Section of the appropriate Foreign Office mission covering the territory (e.g. the United States for all the Caribbean British Overseas Territories).
In Commonwealth and foreign countries, British passports used to be issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the Passport Section of a British consulate, embassy, or High Commission. Since 2009, some British embassies ceased issuing full passports (though quickly available emergency passports of limited validity were still issued for one-way travel to the UK or to another part of the Commonwealth), and applications had to be sent by the applicant to a centralised processing point; applications from Chile, for example, had to be sent to UK Passport Service Centre for the Americas and Caribbean, Washington DC, USA. The FCO says: "In their 2006 report on consular services, the National Audit Office recommended limiting passport production to fewer locations to increase security and reduce expenditure." In other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, applications for British passports could be submitted in person at the counter in a number of post office branches. As of 2010, British passport applications must be made directly to the Passport Office in the United Kingdom.
Holders of the following categories of British nationality can apply for a British passport:
- British citizens (GBR)
- British Overseas Territories Citizens (GBD) (formerly British Dependent Territories Citizens)
- British Overseas citizens (GBO)
- British subjects (GBS)
- British protected persons (GBP)
- British Nationals (Overseas) (GBN)
All British passports are issued in the exercise of discretion by Her Majesty's Government under the royal prerogative. In any event, discretion must be exercised reasonably and not on a whim, and even though there is no statute governing the issue of passports, such prerogative powers are susceptible to the normal processes of judicial review (See Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service  AC 374 and R v Foreign Secretary ex parte Everett). The only exception applies to British Nationals (Overseas), who are entitled to hold a passport in that status (there is no discretion to refuse to issue such a passport).
British citizens (except those solely connected to a Crown Dependency), British subjects with the right of abode and British Overseas Territories citizens from Gibraltar are UK nationals for the purposes of EU law and are usually entitled to move freely within the European Economic Area and Switzerland with no more than a check on their identity and nationality at an external border of a Member State. In exceptional circumstances, entry may be refused on grounds of public policy, public security or public health.
The right of abode in the UK, i.e., the right to enter and live in the United Kingdom freely, is held by all British citizens automatically. It is also held by some British subjects and those other Commonwealth citizens who were patrials under the Immigration Act 1971.
Visa requirements for British citizens are administrative entry restrictions by the authorities of other states placed on citizens of the United Kingdom. In 2014, British citizens had visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 174 countries and territories, the same as for Finnish and Swedish citizens and more than for any other citizens according to the Visa Restrictions Index.
Visa requirements for other classes of British nationals such as British Nationals (Overseas), British Overseas Citizens, British Overseas Territories Citizens, British Protected Persons or British Subjects are different.
Safe Conduct documents, usually notes signed by the monarch, were issued to foreigners as well as English subjects in medieval times. They were first mentioned in an Act of Parliament, the Safe Conducts Act in 1414. Between 1540 and 1685, the Privy Council issued passports, although they were still signed by the monarch until the reign of Charles II when the Secretary of State could sign them instead. The Secretary of State signed all passports in place of the monarch from 1794 onwards, at which time formal records started to be kept.
Passports were written in Latin or English until 1772, when French was used instead. From about 1855 English was used, with some sections translated into French for many years.
In 1855 passports became a standardised document issued solely to British nationals. They were a simple single-sheet paper document, and by 1914 included a photograph of the holder.
The British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914 was passed on the outbreak of World War I. A new format was introduced in 1915: a single sheet folded into eight with a cardboard cover. It included a description of the holder as well as a photograph, and had to be renewed after two years.
Some duplicate passports and passport records are available at the British Library; for example IOR: L/P&J/11 contain a few surviving passports of travelling ayahs for the 1930s. A passport issued on 18 June 1641 and signed by King Charles I still exists.
Various changes to the design were made over the years:
- In 1927, the country name changed from "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" to "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" (alternatively the name of the colony appeared here)
- In 1954, the name of the Secretary of State was removed.
- In 1968 the validity was extended from five years renewable up to ten, to ten years non-renewable.
- At the end of 1972, several modifications were made. A special blue watermarked paper was introduced to make alteration and forgery more difficult. The number of pages was reduced from 32 to 30, and the holder's eye colour and the maiden name of a married woman were removed.
- In May 1973, an optional 94-page passport was made available which provided many more pages for immigration stamps and visas for frequent travellers.
- In 1975, lamination over the bearer's photograph was introduced to make alteration harder. Overprinting of the laminate was added in 1981 to make removal easier to spot.
- In 1979, UK exchange controls were abolished, and the foreign exchange page was removed.
- In 1982, the holder's occupation and country of residence were removed.
- In July 1988, changes were made to ease the introduction of machine-readable passports later in the year. Joint and family passports were no longer issued and the descriptions of distinguishing features and height were removed. The old blue style started to be replaced by the burgundy passport from August, although some offices issued the remaining stock of blue passports until as late as 1993.
- 1998: Digital facial image rather than a laminated photograph, and intaglio or raised printing on the inside of the covers. Children not included on new adult passports.
- 2006: Biometric passports (also called ePassports) comply with the US visa waiver programme.
- 2010: The Identity & Passport Service announced that the British passport was to be redesigned. Pages of the passport will contain well-known UK scenes including the White Cliffs of Dover, the Gower Peninsula, Ben Nevis and the Giant's Causeway. There will also be new security features, namely moving the chip which stores the holder's details to the inside of the passport cover where it will no longer be visible (this gives additional physical protection as well as making it much harder to replace the chip without damage to the passport cover being spotted), a secondary image of the holder printed onto the observations page, new designs now stretching across two pages and a new transparent covering which includes several holograms to protect the holder's personal details.
The old blue passport
A 32-page passport with a dark blue cover, commonly known as the old blue style, came into use in 1920 with the formation of the Passport Service following international agreement on a standard format for passports, and remained in use until replaced by the European Union-style machine-readable passport in late 1988. As with many documents worldwide and all booklet-format documents, details were handwritten into the passport and (as of 1955) included: number, holder's name, "accompanied by his wife" and her maiden name, "and" (number) "children", national status. For both bearer and wife: profession, place and date of birth, country of residence, height, eye and hair colour, special peculiarities, signature and photograph. Names, birth dates, and sexes of children, list of countries for which valid, issue place and date, expiry date, a page for renewals and, at the back, details of the amount of foreign exchange for travel expenses (a limited amount of sterling, typically £50 but increasing with inflation, could be taken out of the country). The bearer's sex was not explicitly stated, although the name was written in with title ("Mr John Smith"). Descriptive text was printed in both English and French (a practice which still[update] continues), e.g., "Accompanied by his wife (Maiden name)/Accompagné de sa femme (Née)". Changed details were struck out and rewritten, with a rubber-stamped note confirming the change.
If details and photograph of a man's wife and details of children were entered (this was not compulsory), the passport could be used by the bearer, wife, and children under 16, if together; separate passports were required for the wife or children to travel independently. The passport was valid for five years, renewable for another five, after which it had to be replaced.
The passport had a printed list of countries for which it was valid, which was added to in handwriting as validity increased. A passport of 1955 was valid for the British Commonwealth, USA, and all countries in Europe "including the USSR, Turkey, Algeria, Azores, Canary Islands, Iceland, and Madeira"; during its period of validity restrictions eased and it was endorsed "and for all other foreign countries".
The British visitor's passport
A new simplified type, the British Visitor's Passport, was introduced in 1961. It was a single-page cardboard document valid for one year obtainable for many years from Employment Exchanges, as agents of the Passport Office, and then from a Post Office. It was accepted for travel by most West European countries (excluding surface travel to West Berlin), but was dropped in 1995 since it did not identify the holder's nationality or meet new security standards.
European format passports
On 15 August 1988, the Glasgow passport office became the first to issue burgundy-coloured machine-readable passports. They followed a common format agreed amongst member states of the European Community, and had the words 'European Community' on the cover, changed to 'European Union' in 1997. The passport has 32 pages; a 48-page version is available with more space for stamps and visas. There are two lines of machine-readable text printed in a format agreed amongst members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and a section in which relevant terms ("surname", "date of issue", etc.) are translated into the official EU languages. Passports issued overseas did not all have a Machine Readable Zone but these was introduced gradually as appropriate equipment was made available overseas.
In 1998 the first digital image passport was introduced with photographs being replaced with images printed directly on the bio-data page which was moved from the cover to an inside page to reduce the ease of fraud. These documents were all issued with machine readable zones and had a hologram over the photograph, which was the first time that British passports had been protected by an optically variable safeguard. These documents were issued until 2006 when the biometric passport was introduced. The bio-data page is printed with a finely detailed background including a drawing of a red grouse (a native British bird), and the entire page is protected from modification by a laminate which incorporates a holographic image of the kingfisher; visa pages are numbered and printed with detailed backgrounds including drawings of other birds: a merlin, curlew, avocet, and red kite. An RFID chip and antenna are located on the obverse of the data page and hold the same visual information as is printed, including a digital copy of the photograph with biometric information for use with facial recognition systems. The Welsh and Scottish Gaelic languages were included in all British passports for the first time in 2005, and appear on the titles page replacing the official languages of the EU, although the EU languages still appear faintly as part of the background design. Welsh and Scottish Gaelic precede the official EU languages in the translations section.
British passports are burgundy, with the coat of arms of the United Kingdom emblazoned in the centre of the front cover.
Passports issued by Her Majesty's Passport Office
The words "UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND" are inscribed above the coat of arms, whilst the word "PASSPORT" is inscribed below. The biometric passport symbol appears at the bottom of the front cover under the word "PASSPORT".
The words "EUROPEAN UNION" are printed at the top of British passports issued to British nationals who are considered "United Kingdom nationals for European Community purposes" (i.e. British Citizens, British Subjects with the right of abode in the UK and British Overseas Territories Citizens connected with Gibraltar). It is not included at the top of other British passports (i.e. passports issued to British Nationals (Overseas), British Overseas Citizens, British Protected Persons, non-Gibraltarian British Overseas Territories Citizens and British Subjects without the right of abode in the UK)
British passports issued by the UK contain on their inside cover the following words in English only:
- Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.
In older passports, more specific reference was made to "Her Britannic Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs", originally including the name of the incumbent.
British passports issued by HM Passport Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office include the following data on the information page:
- Photograph of the holder (digital image printed on page)
- Type (P)
- Code of issuing state (GBR)
- Passport number
- Surname (see note below regarding titles)
- Given names
- Nationality (the class of British nationality, such as "British Citizen" or "British Overseas Citizen", or if issued on behalf of a Commonwealth country, "Commonwealth Citizen")
- Date of birth
- Place of birth (only the city or town is listed, even if born outside the UK; places of birth in Wales are entered in Welsh upon request )
- Date of issue
- Date of expiry
- Holder's signature (digital image printed on page)
- Machine Readable Zone starting with P<GBR
The items are identified by text in English and French (e.g., "Date of birth/Date de naissance"); there is a section in which all this text is translated into all official EU languages, as well as Welsh and Scottish Gaelic.
According to the UK government, the current policy of using titles on passports requires that the applicant provides evidence that the Lord Lyon has recognised a feudal barony, or the title is included in Burke's Peerage. If accepted (and if the applicant wishes to include the title), the correct form is for the applicant to include the territorial designation as part of their surname (Surname of territorial designation e.g. Smith of Inverglen). The Observation would then show the holder's full name, followed by their feudal title e.g. The holder is John Smith, Baron of Inverglen.
Besides the ordinary passports described above, special passports are issued to government officials from which diplomatic status may (diplomatic passport) or may not (official passport) by the text on the cover. A special passport is available for the Queen's Messenger. The latter passport contains the text QUEEN’S MESSENGER – COURRIER DIPLOMATIQUE below the coat of arms, and the text "BRITISH PASSPORT" above it.
Passports issued by the Crown dependencies and Gibraltar
British passports issued directly by the Crown dependencies as well as the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar are slightly different from those issued by HM Passport Office to residents of the United Kingdom and to British nationals abroad. The words EUROPEAN UNION still appear across the top of passport covers, signifying the special status of these nationals within the jurisdiction of the EU.
Passports for British citizens connected to the Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man do not carry the words "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" on the front cover. In their place, these passports feature the words BRITISH ISLANDS — BAILIWICK OF JERSEY or BAILIWICK OF GUERNSEY or ISLE OF MAN, as appropriate.
Gibraltar passport covers are virtually identical to British passports issued by Her Majesty's Passport Office, except that they feature the word GIBRALTAR directly above the coat of arms and below the words "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."
In passports issued by the Crown dependencies, the passport note request is slightly different from those issued by the UK, coming from the Lieutenant Governor of the respective island. This difference results from the Crown dependencies owing allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II rather than the Government of the United Kingdom.
The issuing of a British Passport by the authorities in the Crown Dependencies cannot be inferred from the machine readable zone as the issuing country code and citizenship code (both GBR) is identical to passports issued by the United Kingdom for British Citizens.
Passports issued by the British Overseas Territories
Passports issued by British overseas territories to British Overseas Territories Citizens do not bear the text "UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND", but instead the words "BRITISH PASSPORT" above the coat of arms and the name of the Territory below it (e.g. "TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS").
The nationality reads "British Overseas Territories Citizens". On the machine-readable zone, the three-letter abbreviation of the territory is given in the field of the code of issuing state while GBD (British Overseas Territories Citizen, formerly British Dependent Territories Citizen) is shown in the nationality field. A British Virign Islands passport is an exception with VGB for both the issuing state and nationality code. Either of these features enables automatic distinction between BOTCs related to different territories.
People who have valid reasons can have more than one passport document. This applies usually to people who travel a lot on business, and may need to have, say, a passport to travel on while another is awaiting a visa for another country. Reasons and supporting documentation (such as a letter from an employer) must be provided.
Certain British passports are issued with printed endorsements on the Official Observations page, usually in upper case (capital letters). They form part of the passport when it is issued, as distinct from immigration stamps subsequently entered in the visa pages. Some examples are:
- The Holder is not entitled to benefit from European Union provisions relating to employment or establishment
- British citizens from Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man without a qualifying connection to the United Kingdom by descent or residency for more than five years have this endorsement in their passports, as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are part of the European Union only for the purposes of the free movement of goods.
- The Holder of this passport has Hong Kong permanent identity card no XXXXXXXX which states that the holder has the right of abode in Hong Kong *
- British National (Overseas) passports (BN(O) passport) usually have one of these endorsements in their passport, as a valid Hong Kong permanent identity card or Hong Kong identity card (which guarantees right of abode or right to land in Hong Kong) is normally required to possess a BN(O) passport.
- The Holder is entitled to right of abode in the United Kingdom
- British Subjects with the right of abode (usually from Ireland) have this endorsement in their passports.
- The Holder is entitled to readmission in the United Kingdom
- British Overseas Citizens, British Subjects and British Protected Persons without the right of abode who have been granted indefinite leave to enter or remain retain this entitlement for life, and their passports are accordingly issued with this endorsement.
- The Holder is subject to control under the Immigration Act 1971
- British nationals without the right of abode will have this endorsements in their passports unless they have been granted indefinite leave to enter or remain. However, even though a British National (Overseas) passport does not entitle the holder the right of abode in the UK, this endorsement is not found in BN(O) passports (1999 and biometric versions).
- In accordance with the United Kingdom immigration rules the holder of this passport does not require an entry certificate or visa to visit the United Kingdom
- This endorsement is found in British National (Overseas) passports, and accordingly holders of the BN(O) passport have six-month access to the UK as a visitor without an entry certificate or visa.
- The Holder is or The Holder is also known as ...
- This endorsement is found in passports where the holder uses or retains another professional, stage or religious name and is known by it "for all purposes", or has a recognised form of address, academic, feudal or legal title (e.g. Doctor, Judge, Queen's Counsel, Professor, Minister of Religion) regarded as important identifiers of an individual. The styling 'Dr ...', 'Professor ...' or similar is recorded here, or the alternative professional/stage/religious name, usually on request by the passport holder. For example, Cliff Richard's birth name was Harry Webb, and the passport Observations page would read:
"The Holder is also known as Cliff Richard"
- This endorsement is also found if the passport holder's name is too long to fit within the 30-character limits (including spaces) on the passport information page; applies to each line reserved for the surname and the first given name including any middle name(s). In this scenario the holder's full name will be written out in full on the Observations page. According to the UK passport agency guidelines, a person with a long or multiple given name, which cannot fit within the 30-character passport information page limits, should enter as much of the first given name, followed by the initials of all middle names (if any). The same advice applies to a long or multiple surname. The holder's full name is then shown printed out in its entirety on the passport Observations page. For example, Kiefer Sutherland's birth name would read on the passport information page:
Given names: "Kiefer W F D G R"
- Observations page:
"The Holder is Kiefer William Frederick Dempsey George Rufus Sutherland"
- The holder's name in Chinese Commercial Code: XXXX XXXX XXXX
- This endorsement was found in British National (Overseas) and Hong Kong British Dependent Territories Citizen passports held by British Nationals (Overseas) and Hong Kong British Dependent Territories Citizens with a Chinese name issued by the Hong Kong Immigration Department before the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong. After the handover, British passport issued in Hong Kong can only be issued at the British Consulate-General, and this endorsement is no longer in use. (See also: Chinese commercial code)
- Holder is a dependant of a member of Her Britannic Majesty's Diplomatic Service
- This endorsement is found in British passports held by people who are dependants or spouses of British diplomats.
Abandoned plans for "Next Generation" biometric passports and national identity registration
There had been plans, under the Identity Cards Act 2006, to link passports to the Identity Cards scheme. However, in the Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition Agreement that followed the 2010 General Election, the new government announced that they planned to scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity Register, and the next generation of biometric passports, as part of their measures 'to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.'
The Identity Cards Act 2006 would have required any person applying for a passport to have their details entered into a centralised computer database, the National Identity Register, part of the National Identity Scheme associated with identity cards and passports. Once registered, they would also have been obliged to update any change to their address and personal details. The schedule for putting passport applicants' and renewers' details on the National Identity Register (NIR) has not been announced
The identity card was expected to cost up to £60 (with £30 going to the Government, and the remainder charged as processing fees by the companies that would be collecting the fingerprints and photographs). In May 2005 the Government said that the cost for a combined identity card and passport would be £93 plus processing fees.
The next generation of biometric passports, which would have contained chips holding facial images and fingerprints, were to have been issued from 2012. Everyone applying for a passport from 2012 would have had their 10 fingerprints digitally scanned and stored on a database, although only two would have been recorded in the passport.
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