Passport thefts, losses continue to decline: Taiwan Foreign Ministry

TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday said that the number of R.O.C. passports reported stolen or lost has continued to drop over the past few years with the introduction of e-passports.

Kung Chung-chen, head of MOFA's Bureau of Consular Affairs (BOCA), which is responsible for supervising passport affairs, told lawmakers yesterday that the number of reported stolen or missing passports stood around 20,000 in 2013.

The number is a significant drop from 2008, before the introduction of newly issued biometric e-passports that contain chips to store their holder's personal information, he noted.

Kung made the comments in response to opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers' questions yesterday in the Legislative Yuan amid rising concern over passport security following the disappearance of a Malaysian airliner last Saturday.

According to foreign media reports, two passengers used stolen passports to board flight MH370, which later went missing, leading to speculations that a terrorist attack could be responsible for the plane's disappearance and exposing a breach of security by Malaysian custom authorities.

Citing a cable released by WikiLeaks in 2006, a New York Times report said Tuesday that Taiwanese authorities have "repeatedly raised the issue of the rapid growth in the number of lost/stolen Taiwan passports," adding that those passports "are becoming the travel document of choice among globe-trotting criminals."

Asked by DPP lawmakers to comment on the New York Times report, Kung said yesterday that the number of missing or stolen Taiwanese passports has dropped significantly since December 2012 when local authorities introduced biometric e-passports with additional security features to make them hard to forge.

Now the rate of lost or stolen R.O.C. passport stands at 1.51 per cent, in comparison with the number in 2008 that stood at 2.7 per cent, the official noted.

The ratio is not higher than those of nearby countries, including Japan, he said.

ROC Passport Popularity

According to BOCA, among the 20,000 passports reported lost in 2013, only 132 were reported stolen.

Kung, however, admitted that R.O.C. passports have been highly popular on the black market in recent years, especially after the country was given visa-waiver privileges by more than 100 countries, including the US and European Union members.

BOCA will continue to work with related law enforcement authorities to prevent Taiwanese passports from being stolen, he added.