15th Oct 2019

Germany introduces US-required biometric passport

Germany has become the first EU member state to comply with tougher US passport regulations.

Dubbed 'ePass', the new German passport including biometric features became mandatory for travellers on Tuesday (1 November).

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Biometric passports, which digitally store facial features unique to every single person, will become mandatory for all travellers to the US from European "visa-waiver" countries - states without a visa obligation - from October 2006.

The updated German passport comes with a concealed radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that stores personal information such as name and date of birth, as well as a digital facial image of the holder.

A facial recognition system measures and records the distance between the bearers' mouth, eyes, nose, forehead and chin - features that are unique for each person.

Checks at airports allow facial features to be compared with what is stored in the passport ensuring people are who they say they are.

From March 2007, the chip will also store a scan of the holder’s left and right index fingerprints. Iris scans can be added to the document at a later stage.


Following the 9-11 bombings in New York in 2001, the US rapidly moved towards tougher passport regulations, one measure being the biometric data storage.

Data protection campaigners have raised concerns about this biometric information falling into the wrong hands, while human rights organisations have spoken about the violation of privacy rules, safeguarded in the European charter of Human rights.

But supporters of the ePass say the new identity document will protect against forgery, while making identity checks and border controls easier and helping police to track criminals.

The deadline for the biometric passport was postponed twice already by US congress, as the EU asked for more time.

But the Americans have made clear that after October 2006, people from visa waiver states without biometric passports will have to apply for a visa.

Last week, France, Italy and Austria missed a US deadline for a less sophisticated digital, machine-readable passport.

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