Germany to deploy biometric ID systems

Germany is moving forward on introducing biometric ID systems. The German Parliament today approved an electronic passport plan to begin Nov. 1, with Lufthansa Airlines and Siemens AG of Munich initiating a test in which passengers' thumbprints will be used to verify identity before boarding a plane.

Germany will be the first European country to introduce integrated circuit chips containing personal identifying information and a digital facial photograph under legislation approved by the country's upper house of Parliament, according to Heise Online, a German news agency.

The new travel documents are expected to comply with the United States' new requirements going into effect in October 2006 requiring countries to include digitized facial photos and electronic data on their passports to maintain visa-free travel in the country.

Initially, the deadline was to have been October 2005, but the Homeland Security Department recently extended it by a year after it became clear that only six visa-waiver countries would be able to meet that deadline.

German Interior Minister Otto Schily promoted the new passports as a significant security improvement that will aid in fighting terrorism.

"The (July 7) bomb attacks in London are a terrible expression of the current threat from international terrorism," he said in a statement distributed by Reuters. "One aspect of the fight against terrorism is security of travel documents."

In related news, Lufthansa and Siemens Business Services announced July 5 that they have begun testing fingerprint-based check-in and boarding procedures at Frankfurt Airport. The goal is to make the procedures more efficient and secure.

In the voluntary program, Lufthansa passengers will have their fingers scanned and fingerprints stored in a database when arriving at the terminal, according to a news release. The fingerprint then is printed in an encrypted form as a barcode on the boarding pass. During boarding, the code on the pass is checked against the fingerprint and if there is a match, the passenger is free to board.

If the program is successful it might be extended to an additional airport in 2006, airline officials said.

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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