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Tomorrow Today

New 'digital' passports designed to foil forgeries

Holograms and ultraviolet purple inks will make counterfeit passports difficult to produce

Theft and loss of passports are top concerns
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CNN's Rick Lockridge has the latest in passport technology
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A computer will print the photo on the passport   

(CNN) -- About 27,000 U.S. passports are lost or stolen every year -- an event that can ruin the unfortunate traveler's trip, but make smugglers or crooks very happy. Those wayward passports often end up altered, and can sell for as much as $30,000 on the black market -- proving handy for a wide range of illegal pursuits such as drug smuggling, terrorism and economic crimes.

The latest law enforcement counter-offensive is an elaborate new passport security feature called "Photo-dig" (as in "digital").

"Money put in the front end of passport production saves a great deal of money in terms of law enforcement later on," says John Hotchner of the U.S. Department of State.

Photo-dig is a digital photo technology that replaces the cut-and-paste i.d. photos of traditional passports. A computer will print the photo on the passport, which the State Department says will make it nearly impossible for criminals to remove one picture and substitute another.

"They can't just do the photograph; they're going to have to do the whole page," says Hotchner. "And the more they have to alter... the harder it is going to be."

Some other features aimed at foiling forgeries include a new type of lamination that makes the photo much harder to tamper with, holograms that are easier to recognize and harder to counterfeit, and ultraviolet purple inks and microline printing that are difficult to reproduce.

Currently, the National Passport Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is the only facility making the new passports. Fourteen other facilities will be converted later this year.

While the new security features may cost crooks some lucrative business, they won't cost U.S. travelers any more than they do now.

CNN Correspondent Rick Lockridge contributed to this report.

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