Usa abandons biometric passport as entry requirement

Unlike other EU countries, the German government has moved ahead with plans to introduce biometric IDs despite criticism

Passports with biometric features were to be a condition for obtaining visa-free travel first until 2004, then until 2006. The U.S. now appears to be backing away from that condition, as the Sunday Times reports. For this reason, Ireland is now postponing the introduction of the new biometric passports. In Germany, on the other hand, not only the dates but also the costs are already fixed.

Those who want to participate in the visa waiver program should be able to present a passport that is not only machine-readable but also has biometric features as of October 2004. This was the decision of the USA and already in June 2003 the EU decided to introduce appropriate travel documents as soon as possible.

While the U.S. itself did not want to introduce biometric identity documents before 2007, the Council of the European Union adopted EU Regulation EC 2252/2004, which requires the inclusion of facial images and fingerprints in passports as early as 2006. However, there were technical difficulties with the implementation and so the USA extended the deadline until October 2006. Another demand was rejected by the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the US House of Representatives, the Republican James Sensenbrenner, against the EU Commission in April 2005.

Germany took a pioneering role in the introduction of biometric features in the sense of EC2252/2004. Although sharply criticized by civil rights activists and the Federal Data Protection Commissioner, Peter Schaar, the Federal Minister of the Interior, Otto Schily, pressed ahead with the project and defended himself against the criticism. Otto Schily accused the Federal Data Protection Commissioner of simply overstepping his authority when he commented on the technical problems and the lack of security gains. This behavior was not met with unqualified approval even by the Minister’s party colleagues. The "youngest sufficiency" Schilys were "unacceptable in tone and wrong in substance" In a joint statement by SPD members of the Bundestag Ulla Burchardt and Jorg Tauss. However, neither Schaar’s words nor those of his party colleagues had any influence on the plans to introduce biometric passports.

While in Germany, despite all the criticism, the introduction of biometric features and the inclusion of a memory chip in passports has already been finalized and the cost of 59 euros has allegedly been fixed, other European countries have taken a slower approach. Dies stellt sich zur Zeit als weise heraus. Ireland, for example, now ames that Irish passports, which are only equipped with a digitized face but not with any other biometric features, let alone a chip, will also be accepted. Ashling Reidy vom Irish Council for Civil Liberties, begrubte, dass die USA die Anforderungen fur die zur Einreise notwendigen Ausweisdokumente erneut uberdenken, insbesondere da der Sicherheitsgewinn durch den integrierten Chip angezweifelt wird. "Assessments of the use of biometric chips did not show it had a great role in preventing terrorism as alleged and was open to wide misuse", so Reidy.

So there is a change in thinking in the U.S. at the moment, but it will have little impact on German efforts. Although the Federal Data Protection Commissioner was critical again only a few days ago. Not only did he speak out against the use of the controversial RFID technology, which in his opinion is unnecessary (a technology that will also be used at the 2006 soccer world championships). Rather, he considers the action of the Federal Minister of the Interior in not further consulting the Parliament after the adoption of the EU regulation as a case that belongs before the Federal Constitutional Court if necessary. "The Bundestag must make its own decision" so Schaar. And also from the FDP and the CDU came critical tones. A reaction of the Federal Minister of the Interior to the renewed criticism by Peter Schaar is however still pending. However, it is rather doubtful that he will be more willing to compromise and that the security and data protection concerns will fall on open ears.