Ridge Promotes Biometric Technology Standards

WASHINGTON, Jan 12 (AFP) - US Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge on Wednesday called for international standards for biometric identity recognition technology, saying they are essential for travel safety.

"Common international standards of biometrics must be developed -- the sooner, the better," said Ridge, speaking at a conference sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

Biometric technology includes computerized facial and fingerprint recognition.

"We must mutually produce a set of international standards for capturing, analyzing, storing, reading, sharing and acting on sensitive information in order to ensure maximum interoperability between systems and maximum privacy for citizens," he said.

The technology can identify and cross-check "travelers and potential terrorists before they enter our countries," Ridge said, as well as provide "guards against identity theft."

The US-VISIT program, which fingerprints and photographs visitors to the United States, has processed "more than 17 million legitimate passengers, and since the program began, more than 370 criminals and immigration violators have been stopped at our border," Ridge said.

Ridge also urged all countries, including the United States, to supply passports with biometric data.

"I believe that if we ask the rest of the world to put fingerprints on their passports, we should put fingerprints on our passports," he said.

On Tuesday, President George W. Bush nominated Judge Michael Chertoff, 51, to succeed Ridge as head of the department.

If the US Senate approves the nomination, Chertoff will take over in early February.