EU Commission proposal for biometrics in passports

By EDRi · February 27, 2004

The European Commission has adopted a proposal for a Council Regulation that will set legally binding minimum standards for harmonised security features, including biometric identifiers, in all EU passports.

The Commission chooses facial images as a mandatory biometric identifier for passports. Fingerprints can be added as an option at the discretion of Member States. The proposal sets out the minimum standards and will not stop Member States that wish to go further.

Inclusion of a facial image on a contact-less chip would allow EU Member States to meet the requirements of the US Visa Waiver programme in conformity with standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The US demands the inclusion of facial images in passports from EU countries in order to continue participation in its Visa Waiver programme after October 2004. Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino will travel to the US in May to discuss the looming deadline with US officials. However, for the US to change the October deadline is almost impossible. It would have to go through Congress as it would require a change in the legislation.

The Commission additionally wants to set up a centralised, biometrics-based ‘EU passport register’, which would contain the fingerprint(s) of passport applicants together with the relevant passport number.

The Commission is optimistically searching for advantages of the proposal: “It would furthermore create a harmonised level of security in relation to European passports and thus not discard some EU citizens from benefits just because of their less secured national passports. A common effort could strengthen the European position towards the US.”

Earlier, EDRI-gram reported about a proposal to include biometric identifiers in EU visa’s and residence permits. The current follow-up proposal also stems from a decision by the European leaders made during the June 2003 EU summit in Greece to develop a ‘coherent approach on biometric identifiers’ and ‘harmonised solutions for documents’.

Some EU countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark are already developing biometric identifiers in their passports.

The EU proposal is currently under discussion in the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs Committee. The Rapporteur, Danish Liberal Ole Sorensen, is sceptical about the adequacy of the Commission proposal and is organising a public hearing on 2 March.

Proposal for a Council Regulation on standards for security features and biometrics in EU citizens’ passports, COM 2004/116 (18.02.2004)

Statewatch: Everyone will have to have their fingerprints taken to get a passport (February 2004)