German group opposes sale of biometric passport data

Government planned to fund changeover with sale of personal info

A well-respected nonprofit organization promoting IT in the private and public sectors in Germany has criticized a government plan to sell personal data to finance the country's new biometric passports.

"The combination of the name and address with biometric information could lead to analysis and surveillance possibilities that are no longer transparent," the Gesellschaft f¿r Informatik e.V. (GI) warned Tuesday in a statement.

The organization heaped criticism on German parliamentarians, who have been debating whether to sell data access to private-sector companies to help fund new passports containing additional biometric data, planned for 2008.

In November 2005, Germany introduced a new biometric passport, valid for 10 years, which includes an embedded RFID (radio frequency identification) chip.

Initially, the chip will store a digital photo of the passport holder's face. Beginning in 2007, the holder's left and right index fingerprints will also be stored on the chip.

In a future step, slated for 2008, additional biometric data is to be added, including iris and some genetic information.

GI warns that such data could be used to learn more about the holder, such as personal health, and should not be available to anyone but the government for identification purposes.

The government, however, is seeking ways to finance the new biometric passports. Some estimates have put production and processing costs at as much as $363 per passport.

Currently, the German government is charging around $73 for the new passport with the RFID chip.

The U.S. biometric authentication requirement in the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 requires nations participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program to implement new passports with biometric features that support facial recognition. The program allows a German citizen, for example, to visit the U.S. for a set period without a visa obtained from the U.S. Embassy.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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