6 Minimum standards for security features
and biometrics in EU passports
|Draft Council Regulation on standards for security features and biometrics in EU citizens' passports
|Legal base||Article 62(2)(a) EC; consultation; unanimity
|Document originated||18 February 2004
|Deposited in Parliament||25 February 2004
|Basis of consideration||EM of 9 March 2004
|Previous Committee Report||None
|To be discussed in Council||No date set
|Committee's assessment||Legally and politically important
|Committee's decision||Not cleared; further information requested
6.1 In December 2003, the European Council invited the Commission
to make a proposal for the introduction of biometric identifiers
6.2 By 26 October 2004, countries which wish to continue
to obtain the benefit of a waiver of the requirement for a visa
to enter the United States must have a programme to issue their
nationals with machine-readable passports that are tamper-resistant
and incorporate biometric identifiers which comply with the biometric
identifier standards established by the International Civil Aviation
6.3 Article 62(2)(a) of the EC Treaty requires the
Council to adopt:
"measures on the crossing of the external borders
of the Member States, which shall establish standards and procedures
to be followed by Member States in carrying out checks on persons
at such borders."
6.4 A Protocol to the EC Treaty provides that the
UK is not to take part in the adoption of, or be bound by, any
measure made under Title IV of the Treaty (visas, asylum, immigration
and other policies related to the free movement of persons) unless
the UK gives notice that it wishes to "opt into" the
measure. Article 62 is part of Title IV.
6.5 The draft Regulation has two main purposes: first,
to make EU citizens' passports more secure by establishing minimum
standards for security features; second, to establish a reliable
link between a passport and its genuine holder by incorporating
biometric identifiers. The Commission says that the objective
of the proposal is to combat the use of false travel documents.
6.6 Passports are checked mainly when the EU's external
borders are being crossed. This measure is concerned with "the
standards and procedures to be followed by Member States in carrying
out checks at the external borders". In the Commission's
view, therefore, Article 62(2)(a) of the EC Treaty is the appropriate
base for the Regulation.
6.7 The main provisions of the draft Regulation are:
- Passports issued by Member
States must comply with minimum security standards on, for example,
the type of paper to be used, printing and issuing techniques,
and protection against copying. Technical specifications will
be defined by a committee of experts; the specifications will
be secret and made available only to the body named by each Member
- The passport must include a facial image and,
if a Member State wishes it, may include fingerprints.
- The Regulation applies to ordinary and official
passports, short-term passports and travel documents issued in
place of a passport.
- Member States must apply the Regulation within
one year of the adoption of the technical specifications.
The Government's view
6.8 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at
the Home Office (Caroline Flint) tells us that it is the Government's
provisional view that Article 62(2)(a) is not an appropriate legal
base for the measure, but she does not say why. The Minister
says that it makes sense for the ICAO standards for biometric
identifiers to be used for passports issued by Member States;
they will then be machine readable and operable outside, as well
as inside, the EU. Setting minimum standards for security features
could reduce the scope for forgery. Passports issued by the UK
meet current ICAO recommended standards and the UK already has
a programme to include a single facial biometric in passports.
6.9 The Government has not yet decided whether to
opt into the Regulation.
6.10 We should be grateful to know the reasons
for the Government's doubts about the appropriateness of the proposed
legal base. We shall hold the document under scrutiny pending
the Minister's answer and until the Government has decided whether
to opt into the Regulation.
12 Conclusion 21 of the Brussels European Council of
12/13 December 2003. Back