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US Urges International Standard for Biometrics

The chief of U.S. homeland security says a global standard for biometric passport data would make the world safer from terrorist attack, while speeding the journeys of legitimate travelers. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge made his observations in a speech in London.

Mr. Ridge says the international community is cooperating better all the time to prevent terrorist attacks, but he says one area that needs improvement is passport security.

Mr. Ridge says the time has come for an international standard that passports include biometrics, that is features as fingerprints, iris scans and face-recognition technology.

"We believe that biometrics is an extraordinary technological tool that can not only accurately identify and crosscheck travelers, and potential terrorists, before they enter our countries, but biometrics also provide increased travel document security and important personal identity protections," Mr. Ridge explained.

Mr. Ridge says the United States is implementing a registered traveler program for frequent fliers to America, allowing them to pass through security quickly because they have pre-registered biographical and biometric data.

"We can make a reasoned judgment that based on everything we know from the biographic and biometric information you have provided you are not a terrorist, there's no secondary screening," he said. "You walk up to the gate, you identify yourself and you walk through. I think the world in a post-9/11 environment needs to move that kind of arrangement sooner rather than later."

U.S. immigration agents now fingerprint and photograph visitors upon arrival from 27 countries whose citizens do not need visas to enter the United States. The requirement applies to travelers from some of America's closest allies, including Britain, Australia and Japan.

The United States is to soon begin issuing passports to its citizens that will contain a microchip with the holder's name, birth date and photo embedded in it. Officials say the new technology will render stolen passports worthless.