the new biometric passport of Germany
Called ‘ePass’, the new German travel document was officially unveiled by Mr Schily at a ceremony in Berlin. The passport includes an embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that will initially store personal information such as name and date of birth, as well as a digital facial image of the holder.
In a second phase – starting in March 2007 – the chip will also store a scan of the holder’s left and right index fingerprints. According to Mr Schily, a third biometric identifier – iris scans – could be added at a later stage.Mr Schily said that data stored in the chip could not surreptitiously be read remotely by identity thefts, as the chip can only be read when the booklet is open and the reading device has calculated a special access code.
According to Mr Schily, starting in 2007 all German border stations will be gradually equipped with passport readers and a pilot project will be launched in January 2006 to prepare the large-scale deployment of the necessary equipment.The German Federal Printing Office will be in charge of manufacturing the passports and equipping the issuing authorities with the required infrastructure for biometric data capture. Contracts have been awarded to Philips and Infineon Technologies, which will provide the semi-conductors elements for the ePass, i.e. the chip, the chip package, and the RFID antenna. Among other security features the chips use the RSA public-key cryptosystem, a special computing algorithm for encrypting data.
According to the suppliers, it is estimated that a billion standard PCs operating in parallel would have to keep computing for about a million years if hackers wanted to attempt to access data encrypted with this system simply by trial and error.There are currently around 24 million German passports in circulation, which are usually valid for ten years, with an annual replacement and renewal rate of about ten percent. The ePass will also be valid for ten years – except for adolescent holders (5 years) – but should cost EUR 59, a sharp increase from the current EUR 23 paid by passport holders.
The total cost of the scheme is however still unknown, so it is not yet clear to what extent the passport fee will cover operating costs.The official presentation of the ePass has demonstrated the determination of the German Government in launching the new generation of biometric passports as soon as possible despite ongoing concerns about the reliability of biometric identification. In mid-April 2005, Federal Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar had called for a moratorium on the introduction of biometric passports in light of the still immature state of the technology and of a number of unresolved data protection issues.Germany now is one of the first countries in the world to issue biometric passports and could just slightly miss the current US deadline for visa-waiver countries to introduce biometric passports. This deadline may however be extended from 26 October 2006 to late October 2007. Indeed, a bill was introduced on 25 May 2005 in the US Congress to modify the current deadline, which would postpone by 1 year the date by which countries participating in the visa waiver program shall begin to issue biometric passports.
The bill was welcomed by America’s National Business Travel Association, which said that only three of the 27 concerned countries would be able to start issuing biometric passports by the current October 2005 deadline.© European Communities 2005 Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged. The views expressed are not an official position of the European Commission.