Tuesday, 12 April 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
444. Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which progress has been made on the implementation of biometric passports as required for entry into the USA beyond 26 October 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10479/05]
445. Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the plans he has to inform non-biometric passport holders that their passports will not allow them to avail of the US visa waiver beyond 26 October 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10480/05]
446. Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the personal biometric data that will be contained on the new passports beyond 26 October 2005; if this information is held by the Department of Foreign Affairs; the legal implications there are for holding this data; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10481/05]
Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States enacted legislation which includes a requirement that citizens of countries that participate in the visa waiver programme, including Ireland, must present a passport that incorporates biometric identifiers as a condition of entering the United States under the visa waiver programme after 26 October 2004. Last year, the deadline for introducing biometric passports was extended to 26 October 2005. This requirement applies to passports issued after the deadline only and does not affect holders of machine-readable passports issued before the deadline.
Last December, the European Union adopted a regulation which sets security standards for EU passports, including the incorporation of biometric identifiers. However, as the legal base for this regulation is in the Schengen part of the treaty, Ireland is not legally bound by the measure.
Following detailed consideration of all the issues involved, the Government decided on 14 December 2004 to proceed with the introduction of biometric passports. My Department has launched a procurement process to obtain the necessary systems. A notice inviting firms to submit expressions of interest was placed in the Official Journal of the European Union on 17 December. Based on the responses received, a request for tender was issued to a number of qualified companies on 14 March.
After the closing date for receipt of tenders of 25 April, it is proposed to award the contract for the project as soon as possible. A condition of the contract will be that the production of biometric passports should commence on a pilot basis by October 2005, with full production following as soon as possible thereafter.
The process will involve storing a digital image of the passport holder’s face, taken from a photograph supplied by the applicant in the usual way. The information will be held by the Passport Office just as it now holds photograph records. As the data will be used only for passport purposes, there are no legal implications.
The deadline for introducing biometric passports has already been extended once and it cannot be excluded that a further extension will be granted. My Department is in contact with the US authorities regarding these matters and will publicise the requirements fully, both at home and through our missions abroad, as soon as the arrangements are finalised.
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