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Europe uses tech for border travel

By Despina Afentouli for CNN

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Many authorities believe biometric data is the best way to monitor the movement of people across borders.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A business traveler from Morocco arrives at a British airport. Instead of showing his passport, a camera checks that the pattern of his iris matches official computer records.

This will soon be the new reality in airports throughout the European Union.

By 2007, Europe will start using biometric data, including facial images and fingerprints on travel documents -- passports and visas -- as well as resident permits for non-European nationals.

Both forms of identification will be stored on a computer chip placed in the document and a central database will hold all of the biometric data.

The system could be up and running by the end of 2006.

The digital details of third-country nationals would also be fed into the system.

"(The database) has two main goals: contributing to the internal security of EU states and the fight against illegal immigration by supporting the common visa policy and the checks on the visa applicants", Franco Frattini, EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, said in a statement.

However, if two data chips are included in a single document -- such as two visas from two different countries -- they could cancel the function of both, according to EurActiv, a media portal on EU policies.

Human rights organizations have also emphasized the difficulties of using a central database.

According to EurActiv, some European countries support the use of a separate "smart" identity card, which would also contain biometric information and promote security.

"Managing (Europe's) expanded borders is a concern for the Union," says Konstantinos Hatzidakis, a member of the European Parliament.

"We have to insure that cross-border organized crime, such as terrorism, trafficking of human beings and drugs, as well as money laundering, does not transgress the EU borders," he explains.

In the past, the previous U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, Tom Ridge, has supported its use, saying "biometrics is an extraordinary technological tool."

"Biometrics not only accurately identifies and cross-checks travelers and potential terrorists before they enter our countries, but they also provide increased travel document security and important personal identity protections," explained Ridge at a talk in London, England last year.

Ridge believes that the international community can collaborate on security matters using technology, saying that "we must produce a single international standard for capturing that information, analyzing it, storing it, reading it, sharing it and protecting it".

He also believes that there is need for "maximum interoperability between ... systems and maximum privacy for ... citizens."

Until 2007 applicants rejected by one country's embassy can reapply at other consulates.

But when the new system is in place, all applications would be on the same system, with records for previous applications and reasons for rejection.


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