Passports to get biometrics

The State Department intends to develop intelligent passports that will carry facial images with biometric data on advanced computer chips.

The department will adopt a standard approved in late May by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which uses selected facial biometrics as the identification tool and high-capacity, contactless chips as the storage device. Contactless chips transmit data via low-power radio frequency, rather than direct contact with a reader device.

The move will put the agency in compliance with recent congressional mandates. The Enhanced Border Security Act and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 require countries in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program to develop biometrics-enabled passports that comply with ICAO's standards.

While the State Department plans to use facial recognition, the Homeland Security Department's entry-exit biometrics system will store two fingerprint images and a digital photograph of visitors to the United States in databases at consular offices and points of entry nationwide.

Facial biometrics alone don't fit Homeland Security's needs, said Stewart Verdery, assistant secretary for policy and planning at the department's Border and Transportation Security Directorate.

"In the United States, there's no database of faces. There's nothing to check [facial biometrics] against in our country as far as I know," he said.


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