Friday, November 04, 2005

Biometric Passports in the USA and the EU - Germany Leads the Way

Biometric Passports in the EU

As reported at the EU Observer, Germany has become the first of the EU Member States to comply with US requirements which mandate biometric passports (or plans for such) from visa waiver program (VWP) countries as of the end of October, 2005. The rules are:

"According to recent U.S. Department of Homeland Security press briefings and documents, the requirements for travelers wanting to enter the United States without a visa under the VWP are as follows:

- June 26 [2005]: Travelers from VWP countries must present passports that are machine-readable for visa-free entry into the United States.
- October 26 [2005]: Travelers from VWP countries with passports issued on or after this date must present passports with a digital photograph; VWP countries are required to produce passports with digital photographs and present an “acceptable plan” to issue passports with integrated circuit chips, or e-passports within one year.
- October 26, 2006: Travelers from VWP countries with a passport issued on or after this date must present a passport with an integrated circuit chip, also known as e-passport, capable of storing biographic information from the passport’s data page, a digitized photograph and other biometric information.


The three requirements stem from legislation passed in 2002 by the U.S. Congress. The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 (a U.S. law also known as the Border Security Act) originally required that the government of each VWP country certify it had a program to produce tamper-resistant, machine-readable passports that incorporate a biometric identifier that complies with International Civil Aviation Organization standards by October 26, 2004. In mid-2004, Congress extended the deadline one year. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in recent months, has clarified requirements for continued participation in the VWP. "


Citizens of countries which do not implement the new biometric passports by October 26, 2006 will lose their visa waiver privileges and have to apply for a visa.

See the German Federal Ministry of the Interior (Bundesministerium des Innern, BMI) for information in German about the new German electronic biometric passport, the ePass.

The German ePass [electronic Passport] is being issued pursuant to the European Union (EU)
COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 2252/2004 of 13 December 2004 on standards for security features and biometrics in passports and travel documents issued by Member States

(and see also here) .

Netzpolitik.org refers to a German government hotline for citizens with questions about the new ePass. The information is also found at the BMI:

"Im Oktober werden die Passbehörden mit Plakaten und Flyern zur Information der Bürgerinnen und Bürger ausgestattet. Das BSI bietet bereits seit dem 1. Juni 2005 einen Bürger-Service zu technischen Fragen zum ePass an über die E-Mail-Adresse ePass@bsi.bund.de sowie eine ePass-Hotline. Die Hotline ist von 8 bis 17 Uhr unter der Nummer 01805-274 300 erreichbar (12 ct/min)."

As reported by EU Observer:

"The updated German passport comes with a concealed radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that stores personal information such as name and date of birth, as well as a digital facial image of the holder."

As shown by this biometric passport, modern Germany has many faults and problems, but this land of engineers and scientists is still ahead of most countries in the Western world when it comes to putting certain aspects of modern technology and science into action.

U.S. Electronic Passports

The February 18, 2005 US proposed rule for its own electronic passports had already been issued as a final rule in part, excepting the electronic passport sections, which were just now finalized in the final rule issued by the US State Department on October 25, 2005. See Tech Law Prof Blog and also The U.S. Electronic Passport.

The Final Rule provides:

"The Department intends to begin the electronic passport program in December 2005. The first stage will be a pilot program in which the electronic passports will be issued to U.S. Government employees who use Official or Diplomatic passports for government travel. This pilot program will permit a limited number of passports to be issued and field tested prior to the first issuance to the American traveling public, slated for early 2006. By October 2006, all U.S. passports, with the exception of a small number of emergency passports issued by U.S. embassies or consulates, will be electronic passports."

The RFID chip to be used for passports should not be confused by privacy advocates with RFID chips used to mark products for inventory or sale:

"The ICAO specification for use of contactless chip technology requires a minimum capacity of 32 kilobytes (KB). The U.S. has decided to use a 64KB chip to permit adequate storage room in case additional data, or biometric indicators such as fingerprints or iris scans, are included in the future. Before modifying the definition of "electronic passport" to add a new or additional biometric identifier other than a digitized photograph, we will seek public comment through a new rule making process.

The contactless smart chip that is being used in the electronic passport is a "passive chip" that derives its power from the reader that communicates with it. It cannot broadcast personal information because it does not have its own source of power. Readers that are on the open market, designed to read Type A or Type B contactless chips complying with International Standards Organization (ISO) 14443 and ISO 7816 specifications, will be able to communicate with the chip. This is necessary to permit nations to procure readers from a variety of vendors, facilitate global interoperability and ensure that the electronic passports are readable at all ports of entry.

The proximity chip technology utilized in the electronic passport is designed to be read with chip readers at ports of entry only when the document is placed within inches of such readers. It uses RFID technology. The ISO 14443 RFID specification permits chips to be read when the electronic passport is placed within approximately ten centimeters of the reader. The reader provides the power to the chip and then an electronic communication between the chip and reader occurs via a transmission of radio waves. The technology is not the same as the vicinity chip RFID technology used for inventory tracking of items from distances at retail stores and warehouses. It will not permit "tracking" of individuals. It will only permit governmental authorities to know that an individual has arrived at a port of entry--which governmental authorities already know from presentation of non-electronic passports--with greater assurance that the person who presents the passport is the legitimate holder of the passport.

The personal information that will be contained in the chip is the information on the data page of the passport--the name, nationality, sex, date of birth, place of birth, and digitized photograph of the passport holder. The chip will also contain information about the passport itself--the passport number, issue date, expiration date, and type of passport. Finally, the chip will contain coding to prevent any digital data from being altered or removed as well as the chip's unique ID number. This coding will be in the form of a high strength digital signature. The contents of the data page of the traditional passport have been established by international usage and by ICAO. The chip will not contain home addresses, social security numbers, or other information that might facilitate identity theft."

For blog postings on this and related topics see:

Tech Law Prof Blog on the US Final Rule on Electronic Passports
Freedom to Tinker on RFID
neuer-reisepass.de on the new ePass (in German)
PrawfsBlawg on RFID Tags
eLegal Canton on "Bring on the Biometrics"
Surpriv on RFID
NearWalden on RFID Privacy Cases with a link to the EFF
Bruce Schneier on Security with an article that appeared on the IHT
Ryan Singel at Wired News and "American Passports to Get Chipped" suggesting that privacy concerns are overblown.

Crossposted to LawPundit.

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