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Plugs to be pulled on EU biometric visa scheme?

Look ma, no wires... Aaaaargh!!!

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The European Union is poised to accept that its current plans for biometric visas are unworkable, reports Statewatch.. Last year a Council of Ministers technical group concluded that multiple RFID chips in passports would render the whole snooping match unreadable, which effectively killed a plan everybody had been poised to sign off. Now the Luxembourg incoming Council presidency has accepted this, and tentatively recommended two possible ways forward that were proposed by the technical group.

Both of these are silly, each in its own way. Option one keeps the visa RFID away from the passport by putting it onto a separate smart card. Thus, instead of having the visa tidily stuck or printed into your passport as currently, your honest visiting non-EU passport holder would get a visa in two bits, one sticker in the passport and one piece of plastic that's going to get lost. Or broken. You could of course make it harder to lose it if you kept it (and any other biometric smartcard visas you might have collected on your travels) alongside your passport in a nice wallet. So it'd be sitting next to the RFID chip in the passport and all of the other visas and then none of them would... Ah, yes. And what do you do if the biometric visa breaks anyway? A virtue of the UK ID scheme (there are so few we thought we'd mention it) is that the whole shooting match is under the control of one authority and most of the bearers are in the one country, so it's at least theoretically simple to replace broken ones. The logistics of a smart visa scheme with its bearers spread across the world are an entirely different matter.

Option two takes its cue more from the UK ID scheme's central non-virtue, and unhappily - as it appears to involve putting things off for a bit - it currently seems to be the more attractive one to "the majority of the delegations." This option abandons the RFID biometric visa in the passport, and instead relies on the biometric data that will be held centrally in Europe's Visa Information System, which is due to come into service in 2007, but which probably won't.

Accepting this option would mean that, if biometrics were to be checked on entry to the EU, this would have to be done via an online check. Rationally, one would expect this option to result in checks being the exception rather than the rule for many years to come, because the infrastructure wouldn't be there, because checks would introduce major delays, and because the central visa database is unlikely to be complete, at least for its early years and quite possibly forever.

So it would theoretically be like the anticipated UK system in that it would be dependent on a check with the central database, but in action it would be like the current system, where the immigration people check your visa by looking in your passport. Progress - but at least there will be a growing pile of miscellaneous biometrics providing doubtful value on a server somewhere. ®

Related Stories:

Statewatch story
Senate backs visa waiver extension
Home Office caned over immigration visa blunders

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