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EU wants biometric passports delayed

Only six European countries are in a position to meet an October deadline set by the U.S. for the introduction of biometric passports. Photos: Biometric systems stand guard

The European Union has called on the United States to delay the deadline for the introduction of biometric passports for visitors without visas.

The United States has set a deadline of October 2005 that will require visitors entering the country without visas to hold a passport with a biometric identifier held on an electronic chip. But European Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini has written to Congress asking for the deadline to be delayed until August 2006.

Frattini says that interoperability and security issues with the biometric readers are taking longer than expected to address and that only six EU countries--Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden--are currently in a position to meet the October deadline.

The United Kingdom is also negotiating separately with the United States for an extension to the deadline, as it plans to start introducing biometric passports only from the end of 2005. Each U.K. biometric passport will have a chip with a digital image of the holder, while the EU versions will also carry a fingerprint or iris scan.

If the United States agrees to the demand, it will be the second extension to the biometric passport deadline. If it doesn't, then millions of travelers to United States will be faced with having to apply for visas to gain entry if they don't hold one of the new passports.

The European Commission has also separately published the results of a major new study of the impact of biometric technologies on the daily lives of citizens.


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The study, "Biometrics at the Frontiers: Assessing the impact on Society," warns that policy-makers need to be thinking now about the impact of biometrics as the cost of the technology comes down and its use becomes more widespread in society.

While acknowledging the security and enabling benefits of biometrics, the study also raises issues with the reliability and intrusiveness of the technology and says large-scale field trials need to be undertaken.

"The introduction of biometrics is not just a technological issue; it poses challenges to the way our society is organized, and these challenges need to be addressed in the near future if policy is to shape the use of biometrics rather than be overrun by it," the report said.

Click here for a PDF of the full report.

Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported from London.