EU backs biometric passports

At Uncle Sam's behest

European Union governments last week agreed to embed computer chips containing biometric data in passports.

The plans to create passports carrying information on a person's fingerprint or retinal scans are presented as a way to reduce counterfeiting and fraud. Biometric chips would also be implanted in visas issued to foreign nationals travelling to Europe.

The idea, backed by €140m in EU funding for a feasibility study, was put forward as part of a raft of measures designed to "co-ordinate the European Union's immigration policy" at a summit in Greece last week.

The US is the main driver for biometric passports, the International Herald Tribune reports.

A European Commission official told the paper that EU governments are bound by a timetable set out by the US government after September 11.

Under the US Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, countries whose citizens enjoy visa-free travel to the United States "must issue passports with biometric identifiers no later than Oct. 26, 2004," the IHT reports.

"The solution which is mostly likely is a chip in the passport containing fingerprints and eye scans," Pietro Petrucci, an EC spokesman told the paper.

Privacy activists are concerned about the lack of openness by governments on what data the chip might contain. If our own Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary are anything to go by, European governments are unlikely to pay much heed to such concerns.

Leaps and bounds

Biometric technology is developing apace. This month, a security specialist from BT's research arm BTExact showed us a prototype of a biometric passport. The sample, which he obtained through attending a conference on biometrics, contained details of his fingerprints within a chip with a hologram picture of his face embossed on same sheet within a passport.

It's unclear when biometric passports for Europeans will be introduced but signs are it will be far earlier than the 2006 introduction the UK Passport Service was talking about last year.

Meanwhile there's no talk yet about any insistence about biometric passports for Americans travelling to Europe.

Funny that. ®

External Links

Links to documents from the summit, via Statewatch

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