RealTime IT News

Most Countries Meet E-Passport Deadline

Only three Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries failed to meet today's deadline for issuing electronic passports.

Travelers from VWP countries are not required to obtain a visa for entry into the United States. Of the 27 VWP countries, only Andorra, Brunei and Liechtenstein missed Thursday's deadline.

Travelers from those three countries will need to obtain a visa to enter the United States if they hold a passport issued on or after October 26.

Under the new U.S. passport rules, VWP countries must issue all new passports with a contactless chip holding the bearer's biographic information and a biometric identifier such as a digital photograph.

The U.S. government has collaborated with VWP countries to develop the technical standards for the electronic passports and the capability to ensure that the e-Passports were operable with the readers at U.S. ports of entry.

The U.S. began issuing biometric passports in August.

"The upgrade to e-Passports is a significant advance in preventing terrorists from using lost or stolen passports to obtain entry into the United States," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement.

The electronic passport program was delayed by more than two years as security experts debated concerns such as the ability of someone other than Customs officials to read the chips (often called skimming) and the possibility of tracking individuals through the chips.

T help prevent the threat of ID theft through skimming, the new passport has a metallic mesh weaved into the cover that the U.S. State Department insists "makes it nearly impossible to access the chip when the book is closed."

In addition, the data on the chip is "locked" by a technology known as Basic Access Control (BAC).

"The department is committed to shutting down the ability of terrorists and criminals to use false travel documents to move freely through our borders," Chertoff said.