Biometric passports have been endorsed by governments throughout the world as a factor in the fight against terrorism. Their implementation is being driven by the US.
In 2002, the US set a deadline of 26th October 2004, by which time travellers from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program were supposed to present a biometric passport for visa-free travel to the US.
The deadline was extended for one year when it became clear that the 27 states that are eligible for the Program – including the UK – would be unable to comply.
EU countries are still unable to produce the biometrically enabled passports, and the US has been under pressure to either extend the deadline for another year, or to come up with some other compromise deal.
According to the Associated Press, this deal has now been achieved and is likely to be announced by US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff in a visit to Europe this week.
Chertoff is expected to reveal that from 26th October, Visa Waiver Program travellers need only show passports showing a digital photograph to gain entry into the US.
This complies with the agreed biometric standardisation set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation in 2003, which provides that the initial international biometric standard for passports would be facial mapping, although additional biometrics such as fingerprinting could be included.
But the Associated Press reports that the US is also likely to require that embedded chips are included in passports some time next year, allowing biometric information to be added later.