Germany To Issue Passports with Biometric Data This Fall

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DUSSELDORF, GERMANY -- Germany has taken a big step in the battle against organized crime and terrorism by unveiling a new passport with a chip that contains biometric data. The country plans to be among the first in Europe to issue biometric passes, starting Nov. 1.

Otto Schily presented the German biometric passport at a ceremony in Berlin on yesterday, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The new passport, valid for 10 years, will include an embedded RFID (radio frequency identification chip) that will initially store a digital photo of the passport holder's face. Starting in March 2007, the holder's left and right index fingerprints will also be stored on the chip.

The reasons for using noncontact RFID chips are twofold: contact points in traditional chip cards are not designed for 10 years of use; and passports don't fit in present chip-card readers, according to Germany's Federal Office for Information Security (BSI).

Readers Ready

Germany's new biometric passports are based on specifications approved in May by the New Technologies Working Group of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

At this year's CeBIT trade show in March in Hanover, Germany, BSI presented the first ICAO-compliant reader for the new passports. The RFID chip can only be read by certified reading devices.

The European Union has asked for an extension of the Oct. 26 deadline imposed by Washington to implement new U.S. rules on issuing biometric passports. Washington is demanding that all passports issued by Australia, Japan, and E.U. member states after this deadline have biometric security elements for holders to enjoy visa-free U.S. visits of up to 90 days.

Some critics warn that the chips could be scanned remotely, but Schily said this is not possible with the German version, which can only be scanned when the passport is open and the reading device has calculated a special access code.

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