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US expected to abandon Biometric passport plan

Technology seen as unreliable, say reports

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Rules requiring Irish citizens to carry high-tech passports when visiting the US are to be dropped because the technology behind the scheme is seen as unreliable. The US Department of Homeland Security had previously set an October 2005 deadline for the inclusion of biometric information chips in the passports of European citizens who avail themselves of the Visa Waiver programme. This programme allows people to make short-term visits to the US without a visa. The chips would have included a variety of biological information about the passport holder, such as their fingerprints and retina scans.

But according to a report in the Sunday Times, Ireland has shelved plans to include biometric chips in passports amid expectations that the US is to abandon its biometric passport requirements.

"Biometrics are just a tool, the real concern is that the information would be used for more than immigration control," said Aisling Reidy, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, speaking to ElectricNews.net. "There is also a significant risk of false positives, that people could be wrongly identified, because the technology is not reliable."

The Sunday Times, meanwhile, quoted a spokesperson from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, who said that the US has now recognised the technical challenges involved in implementing biometric information.

Trials carried out in the UK last year, for the purposes of introducing a biometrics-based UK national identity card, showed significant levels of failure in the registration and verification of iris, fingerprint and facial recognition trials involving 10,000 British citizens.

Under a new arrangement, holders of passports that include digital photographs could continue to avail of the visa waiver programme. The latest Irish passports include a secure digital photograph, but do not include biometrical information.

The new arrangement is understood to have been devised following discussions between the US and the European Commission. European officials believe the Americans have taken on board concerns that the move would reduce the number of people traveling to the US for business and leisure purposes.

Biometric passports have been under consideration since 2002, when US legislators passed a law requiring the 27 countries in the Visa Waiver programme to start issuing high-tech passports by October 2004. The deadline was subsequently extended to October 2005.

© ENN

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