Germany launches biometric ePassport

Published 15 November 2005

The German government has found out, to its chagrin, that smiles are not funny. Specifically, efforts to introduce a biometric passport in Germany have been thwarted by people smiling at the camera. Germany started issuing biometric ePass passports a week ago, but the government found it necessary to issue guidelines warning that people “must have a neutral facial expression and look straight at the camera”. Visible teeth are apparently also a problem. Germany is the third EU country to begin offering biometric passports, following Belgium and Sweden. Germans have to pay “40 for a new passport compared to “16 for the old version.

Germany has its share of critics of the technology. Peter Schaar, the German government’s independent data processing advisor, said: “I am worried that the alleged security gains from the ePass are really an illusion. Most of the 9/11 terrorists traveled with legal, not falsified, documents so [they] would not have been caught if the new passports existed.” There is also a problem with rogue regimes, as there are no international rules to stop, say, Iran or North Korea from storing biometric information of travelers who visit these two countries, then using the information for nefarious purposes. Criticism notwithstanding, the German government says they will improve security. In 2002 a spot check of 7,700 travelers revealed that 690 passports were partially or fully falsified.-read more in this report