25 March 2004 In what is being seen as a blow to the nascent biometrics security market, the US government is to postpone by two years a measure that would have required all visitors to carry either a visa or a biometrics-based passport with them.
The measure, which had been due to come into force on 26 October 2004, has been delayed until 2006 following complaints by other countries, including the UK, that the deadline was unrealistic. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, also expressed concern about the scheme’s potentially “grave consequences” for international travel and trade.
Adding biometric identification technology, which works by measuring physical attributes such as fingerprints or irises, to passports is proving far harder than originally envisioned, say experts.
The UK’s biometrics-ready passport system is not expected to be in place until at least mid-2005.
Powell said that other countries’ failure to produce biometric passports on time was “not because of a lack of will, but rather due to interoperability issues, privacy issues, chip-durability concerns and procurement delays.”
Travel industry representatives have welcomed the decision but the delay will be less well received by biometrics vendors, which hoped that government mandates would encourage wider adoption of the technology.
Convincing users of the reliability and usability of biometric security measures was another obstacle that the industry hoped would be overcome by such public sector projects.
Since January 2004, the US has fingerprinted and photographed visitors with visas coming through its airports.
For more information on corporate deployments of biometrics, see the cover story of the March 2004 edition of Information Age magazine.