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FCW : January 2016
January 2016 FCW.COM 27 The participating countries must issue passports embed- ded with chips that carry bio- metric data, but according to a summary of the bill released by one of its sponsors, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), some countries are allowed to phase in the requirement, which means older passports that lack the chip remain valid. The legislation’s remedy for the apparent inconsistency is to require all Visa Waiver Pro- gram travelers to have elec- tronic passports within 90 days of the law’s enactment. Moving beyond facial imagery Efforts to bolster passport security can be broken into two categories: making greater use of biometrics for identity verifi- cation and improving the way organizations such as Interpol share information on lost or stolen passports. Photos are the primary biometric used by the Interna- tional Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency that works with member countries to set aviation security standards, and fingerprints and iris scans are supplemental biometrics, said Michael Holly, a senior adviser for international affairs at the State Department’s Passport Services Directorate. In general, the more biometric markers involved in the identification verification process, the more accurate it is. But moving beyond that baseline facial biometric is appar- ently a work in progress for some nations. “The European Union is still struggling to use the fin- gerprints that they store on their passports,” Holly said. Asked if U.S. officials had consulted with their European counterparts on how the reportedly fake Syrian passport made its way through Europe, Holly said he was certain such discussions took place but he was not privy to them. Spokespeople for the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI declined to comment on whether the agen- cies had consulted with their European counterparts on passport security after the Paris attacks. Interpol, which is headquartered in France, runs a data- base for member countries to report lost or stolen passports, but Holly said countries are not making full use of that resource. “The gap is not so much with countries reporting lost and stolen passports,” he added, but rather with officials actually checking the Interpol database. Inconsistent approaches to biometrics All those applying for visas to travel to the United States must submit full digital fingerprints at consulates abroad. Foreign- ers traveling to the European Union, however, generally aren’t held to that standard. Roger Mason, a biometrics expert and a former senior adviser to the director of national intelligence, called that “a huge difference” in the data that EU and U.S. authorities are working with for identity veri- fication purposes. Having travelers submit bio- metrics at ports of entry to the U.S., which are then checked against law enforcement databases, is “not foolproof, but it’s one more barrier of complexity that would-be fraudu- lent passport holders would have to encounter,” Mason told FCW. He added that passport inspectors in Europe, or any- where else, could make better use of biometrics such as iris scans, but that expansion would raise costs and slow down the process. “You’re moving a lot of people across all these different borders and ports of entry, so that’s typically the trade-off,” he said. As with many IT advances, enhanced biometrics col- lection could prompt privacy concerns. German citizen Michael Schwarz, for example, was denied a passport when he refused to submit his fingerprints. He tried to have that denial overturned on privacy grounds, but the European Court of Justice ruled in 2013 that requiring fingerprints for a passport is legal. Nonetheless, biometrics are not a panacea for secure travel. For instance, if someone steals a passport from a country in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program and the holder of that passport has never traveled to the United States, author- ities might not have biometrics on file to check against. With no biometric trail, “you’re very dependent on the skills of the inspector,” Holly said. n Having travelers submit biometrics at ports of entry to the U.S. is “not foolproof, but it’s one more barrier of complexity that would-be fraudulent passport holders would have to encounter.” — ROGER MASON, BIOMETRICS EXPERT 0116fcw_026-027.indd 27 1/5/16 1:23 PM
November and December 2015