EU-USA: USA requirement for EU passports to have "biometrics" comes into force (26 October 2006)

In fact, the "requirement" means that all new passports issued from today have to have the normal passport photo "digitised", that is copied onto an RFID chip (radio frequency identity) - so-called "face-mapping technology". This is not a biometric. Digitised photos are only useful for "one-to-one" checks, not "one-to-many" (ie: against a large database).

The taking of a biometric requires the individual to be present in person at an enrolment centre where biometrics are taken from them - fingerprints, iris scan or facial scan (1,840 unique points on their face). The taking of real biometrics will start next year in some member states (for new applicants, then renewals) and will be in force throughout the EU from 2008. With this in mind it is interesting that in the UK in the last year the number of new passports issued has risen from the norm of 5 million per annum to 6.5 million for 10-year passports.

In order to confirm the EU's compliance with US demands the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union put out a document on 24 October listing the EU states who have introduced these so-called "biometric passports": EU doc no: 14356/06 (pdf) See also: BBC News (link)

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"The notion that "biometric" passports are being introduced is plain "spin". All that is happening is the digitisation of the normal passport photo which meets the standards agreed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - these standards do not require the taking of finger-prints which are optional.

It is ironic is that the EU will introduce the taking of fingerprints across Europe for all new passports - but the USA has no plans to asks its citizens to do the same"

Still unresolved is the USA's acceptance of 10 EU member states citizens into the Waiver Scheme: Report from the European Commission damning on US intransigence on visa reciprocity.(full-text: COM 568, 3.10.06) It shows that progress has been made with nine countries but none at all with the USA - the USA refuses to include Greece and nine new member states: Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia in the "Visa Waiver Scheme". The report says there are "no signs of tangible progress" and it questions the data used by the US side to support its position: no information is supplied on the reasons for refusing visa from the 10 EU states and no accurate figures on overstaying are available. It concludes that the Commission believes that steps should now be taken to restore visa requirements on US "nationals holding diplomatic and duty/official passports".


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