US sets date for biometric passports

10th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

NANTES, Aug 11 (UPDATE: Expatica) – The US Department of State announced today a timeframe for issuing electronic passports that supporters say will improve the government's ability to protect its borders and critics say are a dangerous step towards a Big Brother-like surveillance society.

NANTES, Aug 11 (UPDATE: Expatica) – The US Department of State announced today a timeframe for issuing electronic passports that supporters say will improve the government's ability to protect its borders and critics say are a dangerous step towards a Big Brother-like surveillance society.

The state department has publicized its plans to issue 'biometric' passports for some time; today the department solidified the calendar for issuing such passports, which will combine facial recognition technology, a radio-frequency chip that contains all the information written on the inside cover of the passport, and a digital signature intended to prevent unauthorized alterations.

The department confirmed that it will issue the first such passports this December, as anticipated. The current plan calls for all domestic passport agencies to issue them by October 2006. In anticipation of this changeover, the National Passport Center tacked on a $12 surcharge in March 2005 for all passport renewals; renewal by mail now costs $67 or $97 if you have to show up in person.

The departments of state and homeland security have been conducting tests this summer of the e-passports in cooperation with the governments of Australia and New Zealand. Airline crew and officials from United Airlines, Air New Zealand and Qantas Airlines have been carying e-passports for flights between Sydney Airport and Los Angeles International. Department spokespeople did not indicate the results of the tests.

This deadline for American passport agencies of October 26, 2006 also corresponds to the latest US deadline for passport agencies from visa-waiver countries, such as France, to also begin issuing e-passports that incorporate a comparable data chip technology. The US state department had said earlier this year that such countries should be ready to issue such passports by October of this year, even though the United States would not itself be ready to do so.

The department of homeland security clarified the policy in June, saying that visa-waiver nations should be ready to add digital photographs to the main biography page to all newly issues passports as of this coming October and then to begin issuing full e-passports next year.

In theory, this means that a traveller from a visa-waiver country who tries to enter the US with a passport issued after these dates but that does not meet these requirements could be sent back or fined for travelling without a visa.

As of June 26 of this year, travellers from visa-waiver countries are already required to present 'machine-readable passports', that is, passports with two optical-character, typeface lines at the bottom of the biography page. The fine for trying to enter the US without a machine-readable passport is US $3,300. 

Critics are wary of the biometric passports for two reasons. First, they say the technology doesn't actually work very well and will cause even longer delays at security checkpoints, for example, when the facial reader doesn't recognize the carrier or when signals from multiple chips interfere with each other. 

To address the specific complaint that chips may be susceptible to unauthorized reading, referred to 'skimming', the Department today said it would incorporate anti-skimming technology in the front cover. It provided no technical details as to how that would work.

The Department also said it is "seriously considering" using a technology called Basic Access Control intended to prevent the chip from being accessed until the passport is opened.

But an even more pressing worry, say civil liberties activists, is the potential use of such passports as what will amount to "global identity cards"; opponents also fear they will help the government track citizen's movements too closely.

"What we are witnessing amounts to an effort by the U.S. government and others (whether conscious or not) to leapfrog over the politically untenable idea of adopting a national identity card, and set a course directly toward the creation of a global identity document," said a white paper from the ACLU issued last November.

The European Union likewise has comparable plans to create biometric passports, plans that have met with comparable opposition.

"These proposals are yet another result of the 'war on terrorism' which show that the EU is just as keen as the USA to introduce systems of mass surveillance which have much more to do with political and social control than fighting terrorism," wrote editor Tony Bunyan on his civil liberties online newsletter Statewatch.

For more information, see:

US Department of State http://travel.state.gov/ 
ACLU http://www.aclu.org/Privacy/Privacy.cfm?ID=17073&c=130
Statewatch http://www.statewatch.org/news/2003/sep/19eubiometric.htm 

Copyright Expatica

Subject: French news, US state department, passports, biometrics

0 Comments To This Article