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IP/04/236

Brussels, 18 February 2004

Commission proposes inclusion of biometric identifiers in EU citizens' passports

The European Commission adopted today a proposal for a Regulation harmonising security standards, including biometrics, for EU citizens' passports. In accordance with the conclusions of the Thessaloniki European Council, there is a need for a coherent approach on the introduction of biometric identifiers into visas, residence permits and passports. The proposals for visas and residence permits provide for two mandatory biometric identifiers: the facial image and fingerprints. Only the facial image has been chosen as a mandatory biometric identifier for passports. Fingerprints can be added as an option at the discretion of Member States. The proposal will now be considered by the Council and the European Parliament.

The aim of the Commission proposal is to upgrade the security features adopted by the Council in October 2000 in its Resolution on minimum security standards for passports and other travel documents. It will also render these features legally binding. The proposal will therefore set a harmonised high security standard for passports within the European Union of 25 Member States. Just as was the case in the Resolution, the Commission sets out the minimum standards and will not stop Member States that wish to go further.

The Regulation provides only for the legal basis for Member States to store biometric data on the passport. The implementation of such action is left to the Member States in accordance with the technical specifications to be set out by the Committee created by Article 6 of Regulation (EC) 1683/95 on a uniform format for visas. Member States will carry out the processing of the biometric data.

Background

The European Council of Thessaloniki confirmed that "a coherent approach is needed in the EU on biometric identifiers or biometric data for documents for third country nationals, EU citizens passports and information systems (VIS and SIS II)", and invited the Commission "to prepare the appropriate proposals, starting with the visa".

The first step has already been realised by the Commission through two proposals which were presented in September 2003 on the integration of biometric identifiers into visas and residence permits for third country nationals. As requested by the European Council of Brussels in October 2003, a common approach on the latter proposals was reached in the Council on 27 November.

The European Council of Brussels on 12 December 2003 invited "the Commission to submit in due time a proposal for the introduction of biometric identifiers in passports."

Therefore, the second step of the implementation of the Thessaloniki conclusions, the harmonisation of the security features of the European passport including the insertion of biometric identifiers, has now to be presented in order to reach a harmonised approach to avoid a lack of interoperability caused by different solutions in each Member State.

Directive 95/46/EC on data protection applies to the processing of personal data including biometric data by Member States' authorities within the scope of Community law.

In accordance with Article 28 of Directive 95/46/EC, Member States have established supervisory authorities that are responsible for the monitoring of the application within their territory of the provisions adopted by the Member States pursuant to Directive 95/46/EC. These authorities must act in complete independence in exercising the functions entrusted to them.


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