Most of EU will miss biometric passport deadline

Only six European Union countries that currently enjoy visa-free travel to the United States are expected to meet an Oct. 26 deadline for initiating biometric passports to maintain that status—with Great Britain and France among the nations expected to lag behind.

Only Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden will be ready to start issuing biometric passports by the deadline, the Financial Times reported on March 27. Japan, which also has a visa waiver agreement with the United States, also won’t be ready with the passports for another year, the Times said.

The United States itself will also likely miss the deadline.

The European Commission is asking Congress to extend the deadline for the biometric passport implementation by an additional year, an EU diplomat said today.

“The vast majority will not be able to comply with the deadline,” the diplomat said. “We’ve always said one year would not be enough, and we are confirming that.”

The British intend to start implementing biometric passports in 2006, said Tony Bunyan, editor of Statewatch, a civil liberties publication in London. “And that means ‘start’—it will take at least 10 years for everyone to have a biometric passport. Next year’s start in the U.K. may be further delayed if the ID Card Bill, of which it is part, falls because of lack of parliamentary time due to impending general election.”

The United States proposed the biometric passports, which contain computer chips with digitized biological information such as facial images and fingerprints, as a security measure after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Congress, which originally sought an October 2004 implementation date, has already agreed to a one-year extension of the deadline.

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