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Integration of biometric features in passports and travel documents

In the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001, the Commission was asked by Member States to take immediate action to improve document security. The Council therefore decided to integrate biometrics in European passports. These identifiers will consist of a facial image and fingerprints, making it possible to combat fraud and falsification more effectively.

ACT

Council Regulation (EC) No 2252/2004 of 13 December 2004 on standards for security features and biometrics in passports and travel documents issued by Member States [See amending act(s)].

SUMMARY

In the view of the Council, the integration of biometrics in passports and travel documents will improve document security and prevent falsification of documents. The use of bogus or false identities could best be prevented through a more reliable check on the person who presents a document to establish that s/he is the person to whom the document had been issued. Therefore, under this regulation, biometric identifiers will be introduced by Member States with a view to harmonising national legislation.

Passports and travel documents will include a high-security storage medium for memorising computerised data that will have sufficient capacity to guarantee the integrity, authenticity and confidentiality of that data. The storage medium will contain a facial image and two fingerprints taken flat. These data, which will be in interoperable formats, will be secured.

Passports and travel documents will have to be issued as individual documents in accordance with international requirements. However, as regards the requirements for taking fingerprints of children between six and twelve years of age, the Commission will conduct a study and possibly propose initiatives on the requirements for children before 26 June 2012.

Children under the age of 12 years (provisional age limit), and persons to whom it is physically impossible, will be exempt from fingerprinting. Only qualified and duly authorised staff of national authorities who are responsible for issuing passports and travel documents may take biometric identifiers.

In accordance with international standards, the Commission will establish additional technical specifications, such as:

  • additional security features, notably with a view to combating counterfeiting and falsification;
  • the storage medium and its security;
  • common quality requirements for the facial image and the fingerprints.

Where appropriate, these additional specifications will not be published and will be made available only to the bodies responsible for printing and to persons duly authorised by a Member State or the Commission.

The biometric features in passports and travel documents will be used only for verifying the authenticity of the document and the identity of the holder, who will have the right to verify the personal data contained in the passport or travel document and, where appropriate, to ask for rectification or erasure. The collection and storage of biometric data will be exclusively for the purpose of issuing passports and travel documents.

Each Member State will designate one body for printing passports and travel documents. The Commission and the other Member States will be informed of the name of that body. Member States may at any time decide to confer that task on another body.

Under the provisions of the Schengen acquis, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Ireland do not take part in this regulation and so are not bound by it. Denmark, however, may decide within a period of six months after the Council has adopted this regulation whether it will implement it in its national law. Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, although not part of the EU, will be involved in implementing the regulation.

The regulation will enter into force in the Member States:

  • as regards the facial image: at the latest 18 months after adoption of the additional technical specifications;
  • as regards fingerprints: at the latest 36 months after adoption of the additional technical specifications.

However, the implementation of the regulation will in no way affect the validity of passports and travel documents already issued. Moreover, this regulation concerns only passports and travel documents. It does not apply to identity cards and temporary documents with a validity of 12 months or less under any circumstances.

Background

On 17 October 2000, the Council adopted a resolution introducing minimum security standards for passports. It now takes the view that this resolution should be upgraded in order to provide enhanced protection for passports and travel documents against falsification.

The Thessaloniki European Council on 19 and 20 June 2003 confirmed the need to take common measures on biometric identifiers and data for documents for third-country nationals, European Union citizens’ passports and information systems.

In addition, the introduction of biometrics in passports and travel documents reflects the need for Member States participating in the United States Visa Waiver Program to align themselves with the relevant US legislation, so that their nationals may enter US territory without a visa.

REFERENCES

ActEntry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Regulation (EC) No 2252/2004

18.1.2005

-

OJ L 385 of 29.12.2004

Amending act(s)Entry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Regulation (EC) No 444/2009

26.6.2009

-

OJ L 142 of 6.6.2009

RELATED ACTS

Commission Decision of 28 June 2006 laying down the technical specifications on the standards for security features and biometrics in passports and travel documents issued by Member States [C(2006) 2909 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
This decision supplements Regulation (EC) 2252/2004 by providing technical specifications relating to storage and protection of fingerprints to be integrated into passports and travel documents issued by Member States. It contains an annex addressing the following points:

  • primary biometric – face;
  • secondary biometric – fingerprints;
  • storage media;
  • electronic passport chip layout;
  • data security and integrity issues;
  • conformity assessment.
Last updated: 02.09.2009
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