EU calls for biometric passport delay

The EU says that only five of its states will meet the US' October deadline, and has called for an extension for its citizens
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor

The European Union (EU) has called on the US to delay the deadline for the introduction of biometric passports for visitors without a visa.

The US has set a deadline of October 2005 that requires visitors entering the country under the visa-waiver scheme to hold a passport with a recognised biometric identifier held on an electronic chip.

But European Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini has written to the US Congress asking for the deadline to be delayed until August 2006.

Frattini claims interoperability and security issues with the biometric readers are taking longer than expected to address and that only six EU countries — Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden — are currently in a position to meet the October deadline.

The UK is also negotiating separately with the US for an extension to the deadline as it only plans to start introducing biometric passports from the end of 2005. The UK biometric passports will have a chip with a digital image of the holder while the versions from other EU countries will also carry a fingerprint or iris scan.

If the US agrees to the demand it will be the second extension to the biometric passport deadline, but if it doesn't then millions of travellers to the US will be faced with having to apply for a visa to gain entry if they don't hold one of the new passports.

The EC has also separately published the results of a major new study into the impact of biometric technologies on the daily lives of citizens.

The study, Biometrics at the Frontiers: Assessing the impact on Society, warns that policy-makers need to be thinking now about the impact of biometrics as the cost of the technology comes down and its use becomes more widespread.

While acknowledging the security and enabling benefits of biometrics the EC study also raises issues with the reliability and intrusiveness of the technology and says large-scale field trials need to be undertaken.

"The introduction of biometrics is not just a technological issue, it poses challenges to the way our society is organised, and these challenges need to be addressed in the near future if policy is to shape the use of biometrics rather than be overrun by it," the report said.

The full report can be found here.

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