UN group decides passports will include facial biometrics

UN group decides passports will include facial biometrics

An international aviation security body has developed draft standards for embedding biometrics into machine-readable travel documents such as passports, though details of the requirements must be resolved over the next several months, a State Department official said.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized United Nations agency based in Montreal, has approved its working group's recommendation of facial recognition as the biometric technology of choice for travel documents. The group also selected high-capacity, contactless integrated circuit chips to store the digital images on the documents.

But much work still remains, from finalizing specifications for the facial images and chip capacity to determining the funding and timetable for the documents' overhaul, said Richard P. McClevey, director of the Office of Information Management and Liaison for the State Department.

But time is short. The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act mandates that countries in the Visa Waiver program begin complying with the ICAO biometrics requirements by October 2004. McClevey acknowledged that the deadline is tight but said it must be met.

'If I had my personal preference, I would like to have more time to do this. We all would,' McClevey said yesterday at the BiometricsWorld Executive Conference in Washington. 'But the fact of the matter is, the law is what it is. ' We're not going to change that.'

The biometrics decision will be included in ICAO's Document 9303, which discusses recommended standards for international machine-readable travel documents. The group, which counts 188 member nations, favored facial recognition as the least intrusive biometric test and integrated circuit chips as the best capacity storage medium, McClevey said.

To secure the biometrics piece on the travel documents, ICAO suggests using digital signatures with a public-key infrastructure, with each country's government serving as its central signing authority.

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