Panama welcomes the latest generation of electronic passports
In November 2011 a consortium formed by Morpho, a leading provider of electronic documents and identity management solutions, Thomas Greg & Sons and IAFIS successfully bid to supply the Republic of Panama with the latest generation of e-Passports. The choice signaled the Panamanian government's resolve to offer an enhanced level of security to its citizens, particularly against identity theft, by protecting their privacy and ensuring secure identification.
The contract has been signed off on by the Ministry of Government of Panama (national administration) and came into force on February 14, 2012, in a strong display of one of Central America's most developed countries' determination to move forward.
Initial enrollments for the new passports officially got underway last January in purpose-built premises equipped with a special customer-oriented system.
We take a look back over the project with Antoine Gautier, Program Manager at Morpho.
Could you take us back over the main points of this key project for the Republic of Panama?
"Under the contract, we supplied biometric enrollment stations for capturing photographs, fingerprints and signatures of passport applicants. Morpho also deployed a latest-generation identity management and document personalization system to ensure secure issuance of e-Passports. In addition, the contract includes maintenance of the system over a 5-year period," says Antoine Gautier.
It should be reminded that Panama's government, represented by Carmen A. Bernárdez, Director of Panama's national passport authority, APAP, deliberately chose to hit hard by selecting latest-generation passports with polycarbonate data pages, the securest material on the market today. More specifically, says Ms. Bernárdez, "We chose Morpho based on its sound experience in identity management, biometrics and secure electronic documents. This is a key project for Panama and one of the commitments of the former President, Ricardo Martinelli."
What's special about the design that Carmen Bernárdez, APAP Director, chose for the Panamanian passport?
"Technically it was very challenging, because the passports have a 'security' design, similar to bank notes. For example, there can be no uniform colors, only very fine lines, etc. In fact, a lot of countries opt for a design based on native flora and fauna, but Carmen wanted something a little less conventional, " says Antoine Gautier.
The result was a watermark on the passport's visa pages featuring the face of a woman wearing a pollera, the traditional Panamanian dress. The security features on the data page also incorporate elements of pollera dress and accessories (embroidery, brooches, crowns, etc.). The passport's design places Panama in the center of the data page, between the two Americas, illustrating a national motto, "Panama, the center of the Universe". Lastly, lines emanating from and converging on Panama symbolize its international influence.
The paper visa pages were designed from photos supplied and recommended by the customer. They contain images of the historic center being restored, for example, the first subway line being built, and the Panama canal being widened. The Panamanian passport is therefore a true example of a collaborative, 'made-to-measure' effort, giving Panama a result that perfectly meets its expectations.
Are other biometric applications on the cards for Panama?
"Morpho is also in charge of biometrics in the management system for Panama's national ID cards, called "cedulas". Our goal is first to deliver passports to the people of Panama, and then to offer ID cards, currently non-electronic, as well as social security cards, and even driver's licenses. Panama is only a small country, with around 3.5 million inhabitants. But it's also one of the most developed in the region, with the added bonus of having high potential, making it a strategic target for Morpho. Plus, the local, highly successful Copa Airlines being based out of Panama's Tocumen Airport has turned the country into a regional hub, and an inspiration for a lot of other countries in Central America and the Andean region," adds Antoine Gautier.
Passport production began last January. How are things progressing?
"A few weeks into operations, the system is displaying excellent stability. Real passport request and production flows immediately surpasses the customer's estimates, but as of week 2 the system had been perfectly adapted and can now fill all requests. Just to give you an idea, a total of 10,000 passports have been issued from the first month of operations. Today Morpho's identity management and electronic passport personalization system for Panama continues to live up to everyone's expectations," concludes Antoine Gautier.