US urges EU to lead the way in biometric IDs

The head of the US' Department of Homeland Security has said he is keen for the US and the EU to push ahead with plans to incorporate biometric identification data in documents such as passports

The US and the EU are in agreement over the need for biometrics on passports in order to curb terrorist activity -- and should be showing the rest of the world how it's done, according to Tom Ridge, the US Homeland Security Secretary.

Speaking after a meeting with German Interior Minister, Otto Schily, Ridge said that it was up to the US and Europe to set the biometrics path for the rest of the world to follow.

He said: "US-European Union agreement leads the international discussion", adding that both could be "pioneers" in the field.

Despite plans already on the table in the EU to include biometrics in visas and residence permits, the US is keen to see biometric elements introduced into passports, including fingerprint or facial recognition data.

The idea behind the biometrics discussions is for the US and EU to move towards developing a common international standard for passport, in order to deter forgers, with Schily adding that travel would be made harder without its introduction.

Iris recognition may also be making its way into airports, the German minister added, although it's thought that most EU countries are less than enthusiastic about the plan due to the expense it would entail. The US is already planning to introduce new technology into its border checks, including updated scanning and fingerprint checks with invisible ink from next year.

As for a time-scale on the project, both Ridge and Schily did not give details, apart from saying that they wanted to see the project get underway quickly.

From October 2004, individuals visiting the US from a list of designated countries will need to have biometric passport to enter the country or else have previously applied for a visa -- a requirement most have escaped so far. While some EU states are readying themselves to produce such passports, it's likely that few -- if any -- will have them ready in time to meet the deadline.

The issue of privacy was also raised, in light of a recent US-EU spat over airlines and data they could transfer about their transatlantic passengers, with Ridge saying that he understood the continent's privacy issues, saying their would be the same level of checks on US travellers as their European counterparts.

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