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Case studyBulgaria's biometric passport scheme

Published 27 April 2010

The introduction of ID documents with biometric data was a requirement for Bulgaria to join the European Union (EU) and was originally scheduled to come into effect before EU accession in January 2007, but was later rescheduled, with a final deadline in mid-2009; the implementation of the e-passports plan has not been a picture of efficiency and good management

Queuing outside public institutions could be described as Bulgaria’s new national sport thanks to the saga of issuing new biometric passports that began in early April. For days, TV cameras showed angry people outside police departments waiting to be served in what had been promised would be a smooth and well organized procedure.

The Sofia Echo’s Petar Kostadinov writes that the situation was similar to what happened in 2008 with the new enrolment system for Sofia and Varna kindergartens when a new online enrolment system was introduced, but turned out to be unable to handle the numerous simultaneous connections and collapsed, forcing parents to spend a night queuing outside kindergartens.

It was the same when the Commercial Register was launched in January 2008, with some people having to queue up for three days before they were able to complete the re-registration of their company.

In each case, Kostadinov writes, people had to spend time and money getting something done for them by the state funded by their taxes. Another common denominator in the three cases is that each was all about public institutions providing electronic services which, by definition, are meant to save people’s time and effort. Sadly, as the three examples show, the public administration let taxpayers down. This raised a lot of questions, about how prepared the administration is to implement new technologies, and about how good the administration is in exercising control over companies providing and implementing this technology. The issue of the biometric passports is a good example of all the shortcomings of the system.

The deal

The introduction of ID documents with biometric data was a requirement for Bulgaria to join the European Union (EU) and was originally scheduled to come into effect before EU accession in January 2007, but was later rescheduled, with a final deadline in mid-2009.

 

The changes apply to all Bulgarian ID documents, including Bulgarian passports and Bulgarian drivers’ licenses, as well as the lichna karta (ID card) for Bulgarians and residence permits for foreigners that will also include biometric data. For foreigners, the procedure for applying for residence permits remains unchanged.

Kostadinov notes that as with most public tenders in Bulgaria, the selection of the winner did not pass without controversy. In this case, the winner was Germany’s Siemens which, in April 2009, signed a contract with the Interior Ministry to produce Bulgaria’s new identity documents. This happened despite three companies that had competed for the order