Fri, Jan 14, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Ridge urges adding full fingerprint set to all US passports


The US should issue passports that include a full set of the bearer's fingerprints, outgoing Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said on Wednesday. Ridge said the change would induce foreign governments to do the same on the passports they issue.

Privacy advocates promised to fight the Ridge suggestion, in part because it would deliver the prints of American travelers to foreign governments, and the US State Department has been cool to it as well.

Ridge, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research group in Washington, cast his comments as advice to Michael Chertoff, who was chosen by President George W. Bush on Tuesday to succeed him.

"Be aggressive, go after 10 fingerprints on the passports," Ridge said, adding that it was "a lot easier to negotiate with your allies if you've already done what you're asking them to do."

Applicants for visas to visit the US must already submit to finger scans of both index fin-gers. Experts call them scans, not prints, because the images are taken on a scanner screen, without ink.

Later this year, a 2002 law will require people whose nationality allows them to enter the US with-out a visa to present machine-readable passports that incorporate a digital photograph as biometric data.

A spokeswoman for the State Department, Kelly Shannon, said that the machine-readable pass-ports the US issues would have a computer chip with 64kb of memory, far more than is needed for the traveler's name, date and place of birth, passport number and a single photo.

The chip could be used for other biometric data in the future, including an additional photo, Shannon said.

However, she added that "the globally interoperable, chosen biometric for travel documents" was photos.

At the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit group in Washington, Marc Ro-tenberg, the president, said that providing foreign governments with the fingerprints of each American visitor would "make it easier for those foreign governments to conduct their own investigations of US citizens in that foreign country."

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