U.S. Eases Back Security Requirements on Biometric Passports

WASHINGTON -- The United States is expected to scale back its biometric passport requirements to make it easier for foreign travelers from allied nations to enter the country without a visa, The Associated Press has learned.

The new passport standards -- requiring digital photographs to match with a person's unique physical characteristics by October and an embedded identification chip later -- would be similar to international biometric guidelines already in place.

A Homeland Security official said the department was expected to unveil the new standards soon. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the standards had not yet been announced.

Initially, the United States considered requiring fingerprinting or iris identification features in biometric passports, making the documents virtually impossible to counterfeit. A 2002 law required visitors from 27 allied nations that are not required to apply for a U.S. visa to carry the high-tech passports.

But the visa-waiver nations, mostly in Europe, failed to meet the October 2004 deadline, prompting U.S. officials to revamp their requirements.