Biometric passport requirements delayed

Officials in Europe now expect the United States to ease its requirement that all 27 visa-waiver countries begin issuing biometric passports by Oct. 26.

Only six of the 27 European Union (EU) countries and other allies that currently enjoy visa-free travel to the United States are expected to meet the deadline. But officials in the United Kingdom believe a compromise with the United States is imminent to avoid "a serious disruption in trans-Atlantic travel," according to a June 9 report in the Financial Times of London.

In anticipation of the relaxed rules, Ireland has dropped its plans to introduce the biometric computer chips on its travel documents, according to a June 12 report in the Sunday Times of London.

The European Commission (EC) in March asked Congress to extend the deadline for the biometric passport implementation by an additional year.

Only Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden are believed to be ready to start issuing biometric passports by Oct. 26. Officials in Great Britain, Ireland, France and Japan have indicated they will not meet the deadline.

The United States proposed the biometric passports, which contain computer chips with digitized biological information such as facial images and fingerprints, as a security measure after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In the Border Security Act of 2002, Congress required that the visa-waiver countries adopt biometric passports under an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standard by October 2004. They also approved an extension of the deadline for one year.

In an April 7 letter to the EC, which is the executive office of EU, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) proposed that passports that met the ICAO standard in effect in 2002 would be acceptable under the law.

Sensenbrenner's letter is being viewed as a likely compromise that would allow Ireland, Great Britain and other counties to continue using their current passports, according to a Financial Times report. However, it would be "politically awkward" for France and Italy because their passports do not meet the ICAO standard of 2002 either, the newspaper said.

"Congress, in passing the act, anticipated that ICAO would establish reasonable, cost-effective standards which relied upon existing technology," Sensenbrenner wrote in his letter. "That the ICAO would become enmeshed in new and unproven technology, and that the EU should choose an elaborate and expensive path to meet the requirement, has led to consequences that are regrettable, but not insurmountable."

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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