The British government outlined plans to introduce identity cards for the first time in 50 years, in an attempt to clamp down on the threat of terror attacks and illegal immigration. (Peter Macdiarmid/REUTERS)
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"The European Union expects to start issuing new biometric passports with digital photographs and fingerprints by the end of 2005 and hopes the United States will continue to allow visa-free travel as a result, a top EU official said on Wednesday." - EU Aiming for Biometric Passports by End-2005
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EU Aiming for Biometric Passports by End-2005
By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The European Union expects to start issuing new biometric passports with digital photographs and fingerprints by the end of 2005 and hopes the United States will continue to allow visa-free travel as a result, a top EU official said on Wednesday.
Under current U.S. legislation, visa-free travel for 27 U.S. allies - including many European Union states - is in jeopardy. It requires all new passports from these "visa waiver" countries to contain a biometric identifier, like a fingerprint or a face-scan, from Oct. 26, a deadline most of the states say they cannot meet. The law was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to improve security.
"We have come to a consensus that we should introduce in our own travel documents two biometric features," said EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino, adding the features would be a digital photograph and a fingerprint.
"From the European side, we expect to have our legislation in this respect fully adopted by the end of this year ... so that member states will start issuing the new passports with biometric features ... by the end of 2005," he told reporters.
Both European and U.S. officials are eager for Congress to extend the deadline. Unless this happens, the United States risks a huge shortfall in traveler spending and a consular nightmare when millions of visitors suddenly require visas.
Some 15.1 million people came into the United States under the visa waiver program last year, and their spending accounted for about two-thirds of spending by overseas visitors. The Department of Homeland Security has asked Congress to give visa waiver countries two more years to start issuing biometric passports.
Vitorino praised U.S. efforts to extend the Oct. 26 deadline. Now that Europe has a clear timeline for issuing the new passports, he said: "We expect that the visa waiver program will be kept for the member states that already benefit from it."
The Oct. 26 deadline only applies to passports issued after that date. Citizens of visa waiver countries who hold valid passports issued before Oct. 26 will be grandfathered, allowing them visa-free travel until their passports expire.
смешное словечко - grandfathered.