New Zealand passports targeted by criminals, terrorists
The Kiwi passport is a prized possession for its rightful owner - but it can also be gold in the hands of criminals and those wanting to avoid scrutiny at international borders, a security expert says.
Reputedly worth around US$10,000 each on the black market, the New Zealand passport's value lay in its "low profile", Massey Centre for Defence and Security Studies lecturer and former intelligence officer Rhys Ball said.
Thousands of Kiwi passports go missing each year, and some are being used illegally.
Figures from the Department of Internal Affairs released under the Official Information Act show 11,136 New Zealand passports were reported as stolen and 42,348 as lost between 2010 and 2014.
It is unknown how many missing documents have gone unreported.
Most New Zealand passports disappear at home or in Australia, but many go missing in other parts of the world.
Ball said the reputation of the Kiwi passport made it a potentially valuable tool for criminals and terrorists.
"The Kiwi passport helps reduce an individual's profile. It is looked upon as a non-threatening travel document originating in a country with a robust processing system.
"This is appealing for groups and individuals involved in illegal activities such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, organised crime and terrorism.
"A person carrying a New Zealand passport will avoid the type of scrutiny of someone on an Iranian or Nigerian passport."
There were past incidents of staff with access to New Zealand passports being involved in passport fraud for profit.
In 2000, Christopher Robinson, the former team leader of the passport office in Auckland, was jailed for 2 1/2 years after issuing 48 false passports to mostly Asian immigrants.
Passport security had improved but there were people working out how to defeat the biometrics from stolen passports, Ball said.
The security measures for lost or stolen passports should make them useless to anyone picking them up, but stolen and fraudulent passports are being used for illegal activity within New Zealand and internationally.
In October, it was revealed that a Madeleine McCann kidnap ring suspect fled from New Zealand to Portugal on a passport he stole from a close Kiwi friend.
Roderick Robinson used Rex Smith's passport to flee to Portugal in 2009.
In 2004, suspected Israeli spies Uriel Kelman and Eli Cara were jailed for six months for stealing the identity of a tetraplegic man to obtain a false New Zealand passport.
More recently, convicted murderer and paedophile Phillip Smith proved there were gaps in passport security.
He is alleged to have outsmarted passport authorities by supplying "misleading" information to obtain a passport while in prison, and absconded to South America while on temporary release.
Internal Affairs' identity and passport services manager Louise Cole said the department was similar to any company with a technology service: "Like a bank with an ATM card, we are constantly upgrading our security."
- The Dominion Post