Tue, Jan 16, 2007 - Page 2 News List

MOFA considering introduction of new biometric passport

By Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is planning to adopt "biometric passports" -- also known as "e-passports" -- as early as next year. These passports, which contain a chip with an individual's bio data, would facilitate identification.

Vice Minister Yang Tzu-pao (楊子葆) yesterday said the ministry's Bureau of Consular Affairs was preparing to phase in the new passport to replace the old one, but added that the project was still in the development stage.

Catching up

"For anti-terrorism purposes, many countries have adopted e-passports and if we don't want to lag too far behind, we'll need to develop one, too," Yang said yesterday at the foreign affairs committee.

"However, because of privacy issues and other technicalities, we are still studying the feasibility of such a project," he added.

As for implementation, Yang said the new passport could be introduced sometime next year at the earliest but that the ministry would take Taiwanese reactions into consideration and work with the executive branches.

Conditions

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Justin Chou (周守訓) said he agreed that e-passports were necessary to reflect international trends.

He said, however, that the ministry would have to ensure that no personal information would be leaked and will also have to develop anti counterfeiting measures.

He added that the KMT would not take the amendment to the Passport Statute (護照條例) lightly or unlock the budgets necessary for the new passports without proper scrutiny.

In response, MOFA spokesman David Wang (王建業) said yesterday that the information contained in the e-passports would not go beyond what is found in the current ones, adding that the the chips would only serve as a means to digitize personal information.

Limits

"The chips embedded in the e-passports will not include a person's fingerprints or an iris scan. Only the passport holders' photo will be contained, and this will be for facial recognition," Wang said.

So far, 35 countries have adopted the e-passport. Using this type of passport would help combat counterfeiting, Wang added.

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