EU proposal on biometrics in visa and passports

By EDRi · October 8, 2003

The European Commission is proposing to integrate biometric identifiers
into visas and residence permits for third country nationals. Later this
year proposals will follow for biometrics in passports of EU citizens,
likely to be similar to the visa proposal.

The Commission and member states want to store two types of biometric data
into a contactless chip (RFID). A facial digital image will the ‘primary
biometric identifier in order to ensure interoperability’. As reported in
EDRI-gram nr 13, facial images have been chosen by the International Civil
Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as the primary biometric identifier. The US
require facial images in passports for countries to be able to take part
in the visa waiver program. Specifically, the US is demanding biometrics
into EU passports from 26 October 2004 onwards.

The second biometric identifier in the chip will be digital images of two
fingerprints. As all EU countries already have criminal databases with
fingerprints this biometric identifier will make it possible to do
automated one-to-many checks. The fingerprints taken for visa will be
stored into a new Visa Information System (VIS).

The Commission proposal leaves a lot of choices open and seems the product
of considerable time pressure. EU members states can choose freely if they
want to use the facial image for facial recognition systems. The financial
consequences of the proposal are unknown. The Commission states in its
draft regulation that the price of the chip is not known but ‘with the
demand of chips needed for 25 Member States, the price will drop

The chip will also have room for additional text. The proposal stresses
the need for protection of privacy but gives no insight how this can be
achieved when crossing borders. This problem is acutely visible in the
recent disagreement between the EU and the US about passenger data. The
proposal also lacks any information how the data in the chip can be
protected against unauthorised access (read and write) and how third
countries can be prevented from storing all biometric data from EU
citizens when visiting that country.

Proposal for a Council regulation (COM 2003/558)