A three-year countdown has begun for including fingerprint data in EU Member State passports. The clock started ticking yesterday, once the European Commission adopted the second instalment of technical specifications required for the introduction of biometric identifiers into passports and other travel documents. (The first instalment was released in February 2005 and related to storing facial image data on a contactless chip.)
The specifications demand the storage of two fingerprints on the passport chip, and for those fingerprint to be protected using "Extended Access Control", an encryption mechanism using Pubic Key Infrastructure (PKI). The EU will be among the first worldwide to implement such a system.
Member States now have until
Tests run by some Member States have shown that the system is working. However, access to fingerprint data would imply that all border posts are equipped with the necessary reading devices, something which is still far from being implemented by most Member States.
Currently only Member States will have access to the fingerprint data. Whether access for third countries will be allowed has to be decided by the EC at a later stage. Nevertheless, full interoperability is ensured should the EU decide to give access to third countries.
The passing of Council Regulation (EC) 2252/2004 in December 2004 allowed the Commission to establish the technical specifications necessary for the implementation of the introduction of biometrics into passports (and indeed other travel documents with a validity of more than 12 months – except ID cards).
The first set of specifications were adopted by the Commission on
The deadline for implementing these specifications is
Vice-President Franco Frattini, Commissioner responsible for freedom, security and justice, declared: “The EU is among the first in the world issuing passports requirements with a high level of protection against unauthorised access by providing ‘Extended Access Control’, whilst at the same time complying with the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in order to ensure interoperability.”