E-passport tests begin

International airline crews flying between Los Angeles and Sydney, Australia, are the first to test e-passports required by the Homeland Security Department, federal officials announced today.

Under a pilot program starting today, crew members and officials from United Airlines, Air New Zealand and Qantas Airlines have volunteered to use passports that contain digital photos and electronic chips that store biometric information, department officials said. They will present these passports when they arrive at Los Angeles International Airport and Sydney Airport.

The program will field-test technology that will become mandatory for travelers from the 27 countries in the Visa Waiver Program, which eliminates the need for travel visas, officials said.

All citizens from visa-waiver countries who wish to enter the United States will have to present passports with digital photos starting Oct. 26, officials said.

Oct. 26 is also the deadline for visa-waiver countries to submit plans to DHS for issuing passports with chips that contain travelers’ biographic data, digital photos and other biometric information, DHS officials said. The countries will have one year to issue the new passports.

DHS will work with the countries at an upcoming technical conference to ensure that the new e-passports work, DHS officials said. All new passports will require the chips starting Oct. 26, 2006, they said.

To boost information sharing among visa-waiver countries and the United States, DHS will require those countries to report all lost and stolen passports, department officials said.

Today’s announcement builds on an earlier requirement that travelers from visa-waiver countries will need machine-readable passports to enter the United States starting June 26. These passports will still be valid once the e-passport rules are in effect, DHS officials said.

The 27 visa-waiver countries are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

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