EU: Biometric visa policy unworkable (Update: 5 January 2005)

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- Council Presidency recommending current proposal be abandoned due to "collision" of chips and Commission asked to amend its proposal

After the meeting of the Council's Visa Working Party meeting on 7-8 December the incoming Luxembourg Presidency circulated a "Note" proposing two options for biometric visas and residence permits - all of which would mean that the current proposal would have to be changed and the European Commission asked to prepare an amended proposal. These options being the only ones following the technical report of "collision problems" between chips (see previous analysis).

At the meeting of the Visa Working Party it was established that a majority of EU member states issued residence permits in a card format (rather than a "sticker" in a passport of third country nationals) - Germany, however, "could not accept this solution" as it issued residence permits in a "sticker" format. The Commission commented that the same "collision" problem would arise as for visas if the "sticker" format were used and it seemed "useless" to pursue this option further.

For visas the Presidency suggested there were two options: either issue a separate "smartcard" (with biometric data)to visa holders or only incorporate biometric data into the planned Visa Information System (VIS). France and Italy were not happy with only having two options but "several delegations" supported the Presidency idea and "some also expressed a priority for awaiting the VIS system and not to seek any costly intermediary solutions.

Just before Xmas, 21 December 2004, the incoming Luxembourg Council Presidency sent a "Note" to the Visa Working Party backing the two options proposal from the previous Netherlands Presidency.

For visas the first option would be to issue a "separate smart card with the visa sticker", as a storage medium for the biometric data; the second option would be to store the biometric data only in the Visa Information System (VIS) (which may be starting by 2007) and not on the sticker itself.

The Presidency "Note" says that as "the majority of the delegations seem to be in favour of the second solution, it is suggested that the biometric data would only be stored in the VIS and not on the visa sticker itself." If agreed the Commission would be invited to amend its proposal.

For residence permits two options are also proposed, the first option would be to issue a "separate card on which biometric data would be stored if the residence permit were issued in the form of a sticker"; the second option would be to "allow the issue of residence permits only in the form of a card."

A "large number of Member States" already issue the residence permit only in the form of a separate card and considering and a number of Member States are considering abolishing the other formats currently used, the Luxembourg presidency suggests the adoption of the second option. If agreed the Commission would be invited to amend its proposal.

The Council's Visa Working Party is scheduled to discuss these options at its meeting in Brussels on 12-13 January 2005. Meanwhile the European Parliament is due to discuss (and then vote on) the Coelho report on this proposal at its plenary session on Monday next, 10 January 2005. This report is based on the original Commission proposal which is now known to be unworkable and which will now have to be amended (both legally and technically).

The preferred solution for visas, namely that biometrics(photo and fingerprints) only be stored in the central VIS system, would seem to present an obvious problem (just about as obvious as the "collision problem" was back in 2003). If the biometric data is not in the visa, but only in the VIS the only way to carry out checks - since they would not have access to the biometric data within the visa itself - would be to take the fingerprints and/or facial scan of the people entering the EU with a visa either at<

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