Passports to hold computer-read body-part IDs

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - Partly because of security concerns after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, technologies that identify people by their faces, fingerprints and other body parts will become a standard part of international travel and appear on passports and visas within the next few years, officials say.

Travel documents will soon include computer chips and bar codes that contain body identification information. The changes are being made to meet guidelines set over the past few months by international organizations.


One deadline looms particularly large - Oct. 26, 2004. In a little more than a year, the State Department and immigration bureau must begin issuing visas and other documents with the body-identifying technologies, also known as biometrics, to foreign visitors. The change is mandated by border security legislation passed by Congress in May. The federal government has started issuing border-crossing cards for Mexican citizens and green cards that display fingerprints and photos.

By the same deadline, the 27 countries whose citizens may enter the United States without visas must begin issuing passports with computer chips containing facial recognition data or lose that status. People from those countries with passports issued before the deadline may still travel to the United States without visas as long as their governments have begun biometric identification programs.


Privacy advocates expressed dismay at what they see as pressure being applied to Europe.

"Our government has forced on European governments the obligation to adopt biometric identifiers though most in the U.S. still oppose such systems," said Marc Rotenberg, the head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Officials from the State Department said that mandatory use of the biometric identifiers is scheduled to begin in three years. They have announced plans to test U.S. passports with computer chips by Oct. 26, 2004. At a recent card technology conference, the deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services, Frank Moss, said the department planned to have all new passports containing biometric data by 2006 at an estimated annual cost of $100 million. About 55 million U.S. passports are in circulation; 7 million are issued annually.

Biometrics technologies are intended to cut down on subjectivity in photo identification. The computer-chip passports are based on a standard set in May by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency.