No delay for EU biometric passports

By EDRi · April 6, 2005

The United States will not allow for any further delay in the introduction
of biometric identifiers in passports of EU citizens travelling to the US.
EU Justice Commissioner Frattini sent an urgent letter to the US Congress
asking for a delay of 10 months in introducing biometrics in the passports
of all EU citizens. In his letter, Frattini states only six EU countries –
Belgium, Germany, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Luxembourg – are able to
meet the original deadline of 26 October this year. But on 31 March 2005
the chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, James Sensenbrenner,
replied that an extension was unlikely.

On 3 December 2004 the Council of ministers of Justice and Home Affairs
(JHA Council) adopted a new regulation on biometrics, forcing member
states to include two biometric identifiers in passports and travel
documents: digitised fingerprints and a face scan. The regulation was
published in the Official Journal on 29 December 2004. The technical
standards were defined in a Commission decision on 28 February 2005. Face
scans have to be included in all new passports before 28 August 2006,
fingerprints before 28 February 2008.

The US demands inclusion of a facial image on a contact-less chip in
passports in order for EU citizens to continue to use the US Visa Waiver
Program. The technical standards for the chip are defined by the
International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The US originally
demanded the EU should comply with the demand for at least one biometric
identifier from October 2004 onwards, but allowed for a delay of 1 year.
The US will not enforce the biometrics on its own citizens until the end
of 2006.

Since 30 September 2004 all visa-free travellers are photographed and
fingerprinted upon arrival in the US. After 26 October 2005 all EU
travellers to the US will also have to apply for a visa on top of being
subjected to hassle at the border to verify their biometrics. EU
Commission spokesperson Friso Roscam Abbing told IDG news service the
Commission is considering a counter-attack. “The EU will decide in the
next couple of weeks if it will require U.S. citizens to obtain visas to
travel to EU countries if their U.S. passports lack digitised facial

On 30 March the Commission released a new study about the future of
biometrics in the EU. The study was ordered by the Europarl Committee on
Citizens’ Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) in June
2004. The study predicts a giant boost in the use of biometrics in
everyday life, once businesses follow-up on the mass acceptation of
biometrics in passports. This ‘diffusion effect’ will cause a need for new
legislation. Another main conclusion of the study is the need to recognise
the limitations of biometrics “and the difference that can exist between
the perception and the reality of the sense of security provided.” But, as
long as the purposes of biometric applications are clearly defined and
there is some fall-back procedure in case of failure, the study sees a
very bright future for an EU biometrics industry. It is a good thing if
governments take the lead with biometrics, because “the unregulated
exploitation of intellectual property rights to aspects of biometrics can
significantly reduce competition in biometrics and/or distort development,
direction and speed of uptake.” (p. 16)

The study presents 4 different scenario’s with plenty of examples of
future use, ranging from the need to use a finger-scan to start an
electronic game to presenting a facial scan to be able to use public
transport. Possibly schools will use a combination of voice and iris
recognition to identify the correct parent and nurses may want to take DNA
samples from each newly born.

Under the summary of privacy-issues the study finds that in general, the
existing legal framework for data protection is adequate, but concerns may
be raised about ‘the way the digital data is produced, stored, compared
and possibly linked to other information about the individual’. These
concerns only seem to affect business applications, for example when the
study warns about people trading in their privacy in exchange for some
commercial advantage.

Aside from a general remark about an (unfounded) fear of ‘surveillance
society’ the study doesn’t condemn the current aspirations in many member
states to create a central database with biometric identifiers. It might
hurt state p.r., according to the study. “If the precise purpose of
holding such data is not clear, or considered ethical and responsible,
then this may create a negative impression among citizens. Similarly, the
blurring of government agency functionality, for example between
immigration and law enforcement, may well be considered negatively by
citizens.” Only two of the 166 pages (authored by the Dutch legal
professor Paul de Hert) explicitly address fundamental privacy concerns.
“Common sense pushed people to adopt a critical attitude (that regrettably
is hardly echoed in the current legal framework), refusing to accept
simple answers about safety and protection when there is little evidence
that security technology actually makes us safer.” (p. 90)

IDG: Possible U.S.-EU fight looms over biometric passports (04.04.2005),10801,100859,00.html

Commission decision C(2005) 409 (official version in German and French, 28.02.2005)

Unofficial translation in English

Council Regulation on standards for security features and biometrics in
passports and travel documents issued by Member States (10.12.2004)

EDRI-gram: Rush vote European Parliament on biometrics (02.12.2004)

Biometrics at the Frontiers: Assessing the impact on society (30.03.2005)

New EU study predicts boost in use of biometrics (31.03.2005)