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Biometric Passport Program Hits Snag

Internetnews.com reports that the U.S. Senate voted to delay by one year the looming Oct. 26 deadline for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries to begin issuing machine-readable passports. The House of Representatives has already approved a one-year extension.

The VWP allows visitors from Europe, Japan, Australia and 22 other countries to visit the United States without having to obtain a visa. In 2002, Congress approved the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, which required those countries to issue tamper-resistant passports that incorporate biometric identifiers.

According to the U.S. Department of State, neither the United States nor any of the larger VWP countries, including England, France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Spain or Japan, are in a position to meet the Oct. 26 deadline.

The legislation now goes to the White House, and, although President Bush sought a two-year delay, he is expected to sign the bill.

Maura Harty, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that a delay in the program implementation is necessary because of technological challenges encountered by the United States and the visa waiver countries. She cited issues, such as chip availability, the security of the data on the embedded chips and the international interoperability of readers.

Harty said the United States does not expect delivery of the 64 kilobyte “contactless” chips needed for the passports until next year, and the State Department does not anticipate completing the transition to biometric passports until the end of 2005.

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