Can Biometrics Move Beyond Borders?

Compatibility and privacy issues are stalling biometrics as it tries to go international

Alternative international biometric standards are also being developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Organization for Standardization. The ICAO plans to standardize biometric technology for machine-readable travel documents, but biometric data-sharing arrangements between the United States and other countries would also be required.

Standards agency needed

Due to the various potentially competitive standards, biometrics experts have called for an international standards agency to monitor deployments of the technology to ensure that it is used as efficiently as possible across multiple countries.

The United Kingdom is one of the countries that will need workable standards to adhere to sooner rather than later. Authorities are already developing a biometric system to read the fingerprints of visitors. The system is expected to be in place by 2008, though the Passport Service has expressed concerns over the viability of other biometric methods, such as iris recognition. The government has also put in place an automated biometric immigration control plan, called Iris, which is currently in operation at London Heathrow Terminals No 2 and No 4. Five U.K. airports--Birmingham, Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester and Stanstead--will all eventually have the technology.

The U.K. e-borders system is another implementation of biometrics technology that will capture, review and store data about immigrant travel routes. In addition to giving arrival and departure information, carriers will be obligated to submit information about their passengers to the U.K. authorities before the traveler's arrival.

The system was implemented on a trial basis in December 2004 on a few selected routes and will run for 39 months. If it is deemed successful, the system will be replaced with a full implementation.

Karen Gomm of ZDNet UK reported from London.