Biometrics backtrack as DFA drops passport chip plans

14 Jun 2005

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has confirmed that it will not proceed with plans to provide passports fitted with a microchip capable of carrying biometric data.

In a statement issued to, the Department referred to an “evolution in US thinking on the requirement for biometric chip passports” and that as a result the Irish passport, which was the subject of a €26m revamp late last year, is probably sufficient in its current form to meet the requirements of the US visa waiver programme, at least in the short term.

The US Department of Homeland Security had previously stipulated that all 27 countries participating in the visa waiver programme including Ireland, Britain, France and Japan, had to begin issuing machine-readable passports with a biometric chip by October of this year. Due to problems in implementing such a large-scale project the original deadline had actually been extended. Reports now suggest that the technical challenges are of such a scale that the US could abandon the biometrics initiative altogether.

Many commentators had expressed scepticism that such an extensive project could be implemented in time. Privacy advocates had questioned the need to include biometric data on passports in the first place and doubted that the controversial technology could be effective.

As a result of the change in US thinking and pending further clarification of the US position, the DFA has opted not to proceed with the addition of a microchip to new Irish passports. Its statement added: “We will, however, continue to follow developments in this area very closely and we will be ready to move when the time is right.”

By Gordon Smith