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What you need to know about the biometric passport

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Lluís Enric Mayans
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Already in the United States, soon in France

The biometric passport (or “biometric passport”) has been used for nearly three years to travel to the United States. It will eventually replace its “ancestor”, the optical reader passport. The objective: to secure the personal data of travelers in order to prevent falsification of passports. A few tips before going to San Francisco, New York or Las Vegas ...





Biometric, what is it?

Biometrics is based on the principle of recognizing physical characteristics. It serves to establish an identity in an irrefutable way. For the time being, we are still talking about an electronic passport: the identity photo is printed and your personal information (eg: dates, place of birth, photo) is recorded on an electronic chip which is used to communicate with the computer of the immigration officer in the United States. Gradually, physical data (eg fingerprints) will be added to this type of passport, which will therefore be “biometric”.

Is the biometric passport compulsory?

Since October 26, 2005, the United States requires that new passports issued be biometric (electronic). Prior to this date, valid scanned passports (with a barcode under the holder's name) are accepted. Be careful if you have a passport issued between October 26, 2005 and spring 2006: it may be optical readable. 

What does the immigration officer check?

Using his computer, the immigration officer checks the correspondence between the information printed on the passport and that which appears on the electronic chip. It also registers your fingerprints and takes an ID photo. This fall, France will start issuing truly biometric passports: fingerprints will appear on them. Eventually, other parameters could be added, such as the photograph of the iris of the eye.
How to get an electronic passport? You just have to go to your town hall and provide a number of documents, which differ depending on your situation.





A controversial passport

The collection of individual biometric data is the subject of controversy over the misuse of this information (registration in a database). The CNIL, the body responsible, among other things, for the protection of private electronic data, has also expressed certain reservations.





More:
- implementation of the biometric passport on the Service-public.com site
- the reservations made by the CNIL


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