The first biometric passports are set to arrive in 18 months and initially will record the facial characteristics of the bearer. In three years, European travelers will also have to provide a fingerprint for the passport. The facial and fingerprint data will be stored on an embedded chip, along with a digital copy of the bearer's photo.
The decision, made at a meeting of interior ministers in Luxembourg, is not yet final. Austria, Finland and the Netherlands have voiced minor concerns about the proposal, but they will probably not turn out to be insurmountable obstacles.
The European push for biometrics is heavily influenced by a United States policy change for passports for people from "visa waiver" countries after the Sept. 11 attacks. U.S. plans to introduce a biometric passport requirement by this fall for these countries were widely seen as unrealistic. However, by Oct. 26 next year, all visitors from these countries will have to provide a machine-readable passport with biometric data.