On 13 Dec the General Affairs Council approved two regulations
dealing with biometric data in passports and external
border security in the EU.
The first regulation will make it mandatory for
all newly-issued passports to contain digital facial imaging
(within 18 months) and fingerprints (within 3 years). Passports
must be machine-readable and the regulation lays down
specifications on printing techniques, paper quality and protection
against copying and counterfeiting. A single body within each
member state will have responsibility for issuing passports.
The measure comes in the wake of
US pressure for all EU citizens seeking entry to
the US, who currently benefit from a visa waiver, to have
machine-readable passports containing biometric data (see EURACTIV 7 Oct 2004).
Parliament, which cleared the measure on 2
December, stipulated that the biometric data should only be used
for verifying the authenticity of the passport and should be
handled only by the competent authorities. Data protection rules
The second regulation is designed to secure
external borders by requiring member states to systematically stamp
the travel documents of all third party nationals crossing their
borders: entry stamps will take priority over exit stamps. A person
holding a passport with no valid stamp will be presumed to be in
the country illegally.
In October the Council also adopted a Regulation
establishing an External Borders Agency to improve co-ordination
between member states of external border management.
Both regulations are extensions of the Schengen acquis
and therefore do not apply to the UK, Ireland, Norway or
Iceland. Denmark will decide within 6 months whether to apply
them. The UK, however, is to introduce its
own requirements for passport photographs in 2005, which will
include biometric facial image data to be incorporated in a chip
into newly-issued “ePassports”.