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EU to tighten visa and passport security


EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS
06-.23.2003

EU citizens will have their fingerprints stamped on their passports or undergo an iris scan as from next year, under proposals to be drawn up by the European Commission.

These measures partly stem due to a US law enacted in 2002, which will start demanding visas from EU citizens from 26 October 2004 if they do not have biometric information (fingerprints, iris scans or DNA) on their passports.

US fight against terrorism
The US will be using this biometric information in addition to existing screening processes that identify potential terrorists or criminals.

Since March 2003, US authorities have had access to most European airline passenger databases, where EU passengers are screened before they land on US soil.

The European Commission, which will present its proposals on the issue next month, stressed that these measures will not lead to a harmonised EU passport, but will only introduce similar security features.

"The EU will not only upgrade its passports but also meet the deadline set by the US," the Commission spokesperson for Justice and Home Affairs told EUobserver.

The EU is also planning to introduce biometric data on visas and residence permits of third country nationals residing in the EU from next year, as a means to counter illegal immigration.

Citizens kept in the dark
Although EU heads of state and governments meeting in Greece last week gave the green light for such plans, so far there has not been any public consultation.

"The adoption of this decision for the wholesale surveillance of peoples' movements by the EU Council has been taken without any public consultation or debate in parliaments. The EU Council cannot legislate but its decisions are routinely translated into EU law - it is a totally undemocratic procedure," Tony Bunyan, editor of Statewatch, a civil liberties organisation said.

Mr Bunyan said that the aim of these measures will be to record the people's movements and sees it is a very poor way of countering terrorism. He is also concerned about the level of information which could be stored and who would be able to access such information.

"What information is going to be held? We need to have a proper debate on this", Mr Bunyan told EUobserver.

EU ministers are expected to discuss the Commission's proposal to include biometric information on visas and passports in an informal Justice and Home affairs meeting in September.

The Commission's proposal to extend this system on EU passports is expected at the end of this year.

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