Clarification of the position in relation to Biometrics and Irish Passports
In the light of recent media articles on the incorporation of biometric information in passports, the Department of Foreign Affairs wishes to clarify the position in relation to Ireland.
Visa Waiver Requirements
Ireland is one of 27 countries that participate in the U.S. Visa Waiver Programme, which enables citizens of those countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa for business or tourist purposes.
The U.S. Enhanced Border Security Act, enacted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, requires each country that participates in the Visa Waiver Programme to introduce, or have in place a programme to produce, biometric passports by 26 October 2004. Otherwise, citizens of these countries will have to obtain a visa from an American Embassy for travel to the U.S.
For countries that comply with this legislation, holders of passports issued before 26 October 2004 will continue to be able to enter the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Programme without a visa, provided their passports are machine-readable (i.e. the personal data is printed and not hand-written).
Biometric Data in Passports
Biometric passports are passports that incorporate a microchip containing biometric information relating to the passport holder. The International Civil Aviation Organisation, which sets standards for travel documents, has agreed that all countries will use the shape-of-face biometric and that they may include fingerprints or iris scans as additional biometrics.
Ireland has not yet taken a decision to incorporate biometric information in Irish passports. The Department of Foreign Affairs is currently studying the implications of complying with the U.S. legislation and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will submit a recommendation to the Government in due course.
New Passport Project
Separate from the biometric issue, the current passport system requires substantial modernising. A major project is currently underway for this purpose. This will see the introduction of a new, more secure Irish passport later this year. The new passport will contain a polycarbonate (stiff plastic) page to hold the personal data of the bearer and this datapage will be capable of incorporating a microchip containing biometric information. It will, accordingly, be possible to move relatively quickly to the stage of producing biometric passports if a decision to this effect is taken by the Government. However, as indicated above, no such decision has been taken yet.
The Department of Foreign Affairs wishes to clarify also that the new passport issuing system will not initially allow the submission of passport applications across the internet. Consideration is being given to including some on-line services, such as downloading an application form and tracking the progress of previously submitted applications, in the new system from the date of implementation. However, it will not be possible to apply for a passport on-line until the Public Services Broker is established and capable of providing the necessary level of authentication to ensure that the security and integrity of the passport issuing system is preserved.