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US to Require Machine-Readable Passports by End of June

Randy Beardsworth
A senior official of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says Washington will require travelers who do not need a visa to enter the United States to have machine-readable passports by June 26.

Since last October, the U.S. government has required travelers from several countries who are allowed to enter the United States for short stays without a visa to have biometric passports. The documents enable U.S. immigration officials to match a traveler's physical characteristics with a digital facial image on the passport itself.

Many of those countries have delayed issuing such passports. So Washington extended the deadline to October of this year. But it still wants travelers from the 27 countries involved, 15 of which belong to the European Union, to have a machine-readable passport, containing a supermarket-like barcode, by the end of next month.

Randy Beardsworth, acting undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security, says that June 26 is the deadline for all such travelers to have a machine-readable passport.

"It will be necessary for people to have a machine-readable passport when they arrive at the airport to travel to the United States, or they will likely not be allowed to board the aircraft," said Randy Beardsworth.

Travelers will still be fingerprinted and have their photograph taken on arrival in the United States until their passports are not only machine-readable but fully biometric. Such passports feature a microchip containing facial features.

The European Union has asked the United States for still more time to provide passports with digitized facial images to its citizens. Officials in Brussels say the E.U. is hoping to have that done by August 2006.

Mr. Beardsworth did not rule out a second delay but says the E.U. and other nations like Japan are as committed as is the United States to biometric passports.

Much of the discussion Tuesday between U.S. and E.U. officials centered on a requirement by Washington that airlines flying to the United States or overflying U.S. airspace provide passenger data to U.S. authorities. The European Commission, the E.U.'s executive body, has given its assent to the U.S. requirement.

The European parliament says providing that kind of data violates individual privacy rights and has referred the matter to the European Court of Justice, the E.U.'s high court.

Mr. Beardsworth says the passenger data deal has worked so far but that U.S. and E.U. officials will review its implementation in the weeks ahead.