Germany to Introduce Biometric Passports This Year

BERLIN (AP) - Germany's top security official said Wednesday that the country will start issuing new passports this fall with chips that contain biometric data.

The chip on the new "ePass," which authorities will issue starting Nov. 1, initially will hold a digital photo of the holder's face, Interior Minister Otto Schily said.

Starting in March 2007, fingerprints also will be stored on the chips, Schily said.

The new passports will be phased in gradually, with machine-readable passports issued before November remaining valid for up to 10 years.

New technology will be phased in gradually at border control points to handle the chip passports, with full coverage expected by 2008.

"Issuing biometrically supported passports in Europe is a foundation stone in the battle against organized crime and international terrorism," Schily said.

The European Union has called for an extension of an Oct. 26 deadline imposed by Washington to implement new U.S. rules on issuing biometric passports.

Washington has said that all EU passports issued thereafter will need to have biometric security elements in order for citizens to remain exempt from visas. However, it has said passports issued before the deadline without the features would still be honored.

Schily said the new technology would raise the fee for German passports to euro59 (US$73) from euro26 (US$32).