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U.S. Scales Back Passport Standards

New York, Jun 14, 2005

According to a report from the Associated Press, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has opted to scale back its biometric passport standards, which required documents to contain digital photographs and other biometric identifiers by October and an embedded identification chip by a later date. New standards from DHS will align passport requirements with similar international biometric guidelines already in place and ease entry of foreign travelers from allied nations that do not have a visa. The statement to the AP was made by an anonymous DHS official; the new standards have not yet been officially announced.

The United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program dictated the requirements for most foreign visitors with non-immigrant visas. When launched in January 2004, the new program included passport standards containing stringent biometric elements like fingerprinting or iris identification that made counterfeit of documents virtually impossible. [See related story: U.S. Implements U.S.-VISIT Program with Biometric Technology]

An October 2004 deadline required machine-readable documents that used biometrics to be issued by nations in the Visa Waiver Program that complied with biometric guidelines set in 2003 by the International Civil Aviation Organization, an arm of the United Nations. However, many of these countries failed to meet the deadline, and the U.S. has decided to modify the requirements.

"Right now, in many ways we are using the most primitive kind of screening — meaning we screen for names that match lists of terrorists and criminals," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff during a May visit to Brussels. "And of course, names are not the best way to identify people. They're certainly not as good as biometrics."

The State Department has expanded the hours of its National Passport Information Center to answer questions about passport applications up to 17 hours each day. The center can be reached by calling 1-877-487-2778.

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