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Congress questions extension of deadline for biometric passports [priv]
From: Declan McCullagh <declan () well com>
Date: Tue, 23 Mar 2004 02:20:26 -0500





U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary
F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Chairman
_______________________________________
www.house.gov/judiciary

News Advisory
For immediate release Contact: Jeff Lungren/Terry Shawn
March 22, 2004                                                  202-225-2492

Sensenbrenner Requests Information From 21 Countries on Their Progress Meeting Deadlines For Passports With Enhanced Security Features

Secretaries Powell and Ridge Request Biometric Passport Deadline Extension of Two Years


WASHINGTON, D.C. - House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.) has written 21 Ambassadors to the United States requesting information about the ability of their countries to meet deadlines for issuing machine-readable passports with biometric identifiers.

Chairman Sensenbrenner commented about sending the letters, "Our Committee Members recognize the added security protection that biometric identifiers will provide in combating terrorism and securing the homeland; as a result, deadlines were set for using biometric identifiers in passports from those countries whose citizens can enter the U.S. without needing a visa. I recently received a letter from Secretary Powell and Secretary Ridge requesting legislation to extend or waive the biometric passport deadline for two years. Congress needs the information requested of the Ambassadors in order to address the Administration's request."

Biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints or iris recognition, are different for each person. These identifiers are almost impossible to counterfeit and, thus, provide a extremely high level of certainty that the document being presented is authentic and accurate. Likewise, the tamper-resistant requirement ensures that official documents are not easily altered so as to call into question the veracity and the usefulness of the document. Requiring documents be machine-readable allows for security codes in the documents to be read and checked immediately with terrorist watch lists, etc.

The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 required that the federal government establish document authentication and biometric identifiers standards to be employed on visas and travel documents, and that all passports issued by visa waiver countries after October 26, 2004 meet such standards and contain a biometric identifier. By the same date, the federal government is required to install equipment and software at all U.S. Ports of Entry to allow biometric comparison and authentication of the passports and official travel documents presented.

In addition, the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and the 2002 Border Security legislation together established a separate October 26, 2003 deadline whereby travelers from visa waiver program countries must present a machine-readable, tamper-resistant passport to enter the United States without a visa. Last year, because the Secretary of State determined that most visa waiver countries could not meet the machine-readable document requirements, Secretary Powell extended the deadline one year for 21 of these countries as he is allowed to do by the USA PATRIOT Act. Because the resulting new deadline date provided by Secretary Powell coincides with the deadlines set by the Border Security Act, much confusion has occurred, particularly in the foreign press, about what travel documents will be required to enter the U.S. after October 26, 2004.

It has been widely reported that most of the countries within the visa waiver program will not be able to meet these deadlines. Thus, Chairman Sensenbrenner wrote to the 21 Ambassadors, "To enable the Committee to determine whether legislation is needed to timely address this issue, would you please provide this Committee with the following information:

Did the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security provide your government with sufficient and timely information about the new requirements?




Will [country] be able to issue legally compliant passports before October 26, 2004?

If not, has [country] initiated a process to revise its passports at a later date?

When is it anticipated that [country's] passports will be compliant?

Does [country] currently use electronic scanners at its international ports of entry to read Machine Readable Travel Documents (MRTD) compliant with current International Civil Aeronautics Organization (ICAO) standards?

How will the proposed ICAO MRTD standards addressing global interoperability, reader technology and contactless chips anticipated to be adopted by the ICAO Technical Advisory Group on MRTD in May, 2004 affect [country's] passport revision plans?"

The 21 countries whose Ambassadors received a letter from Chairman Sensenbrenner are: Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The letter from Secretary Powell and Secretary Ridge requesting legislation to extend the deadline for two years is available at http://www.house.gov/judiciary/ridge031704.pdf
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