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Passport Safety, Privacy Face Off

More on the ICAO story first noted by Trevor. An international aviation group is completing new passport standards this week, setting the groundwork for all passports issued worldwide to include digitized photographs that a computer can read remotely and compare to the face of the traveler or to a database of mug shots.

Supporters hope the system will banish fake passports and help fight terrorism. But critics say the standards will enable a global infrastructure for surveillance and lead to a host of national biometric databases, including ones run by countries with troubling human rights records.

The ICAO has already settled on facial recognition as the standard biometric identifier, though countries may add fingerprints or iris scans if they wish. The standards body will vote on Friday whether to adopt radio-frequency ID chips, such as those used in Fast Pass toll systems, as the standard method of storing and transmitting the digitized information.

Simon Davies, director of human rights group Privacy International, said the ICAO hasn’t consulted with human rights groups and shouldn’t be involved at all.

The most troubling aspect of international standard setting is that it often occurs without any national dialogue through the diplomatic process. Governments merely use the standards bodies as a convenient means of implementing controversial policy.

Privacy International suggested that the ICAO should have adopted a standard that would allow computers at a border to match the traveler to the digital photo on a passport, but that did not permit any government to keep a central database of photos.

The group argued that facial recognition is not the most accurate identification benchmark, and that matching a person to an old photograph is problematic.

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