Biometric passports: the German experience

25/12/2012

 

In January of 2013 in Ukraine will be biometric documents. In Germany, the biometric passport introduced in 2005. DW correspondent tried to figure out why in Germany, these documents are still the subject of heated debate.


In January of 2013 in Ukraine will start issuing biometric documents. The new law provides for biometrization passports, internal passports and driver's licenses. In addition, it will create a single database, which aims to collect information about individuals for issuing the relevant documents. Ukrainian human rights activists criticized the new registry, considering it a breach of privacy.

Such discussions are still underway in Germany, where the issue biometric passports began in November 2005. In addition to photographs, the built-in on one of the pages of the document are stored chip, and other information about the owner, for example, name, height and eye color. In addition, c 2007 biometric passports contain fingerprints index finger right or left hand, which is being captured by a special scanner that reads the pattern of the human skin.

Germany was the first country in the EU to introduce a travel document with full biometric data of its citizens. The reason was the U.S. proposal to change the format of passports to persons entering this country to the attacks September 11, 2001 to increase the level of document security.


The gradual transition

In addition to the biometric passport, in November 2010 in Germany, a new electronic ID card that looks like a credit card. With it, the Germans are on the web make money transfers, make deals, and execute documents in state institutions. In addition, the new identity is a function of electronic identification of the owner of eID (electronic Identity), which may, if necessary to confirm a user's identity on the Internet.

To biometric documents in Germany are moving slowly. Citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany can get them at the expiry of the old passport, but no later than 2020.

Passport with an electronic chip — more reliable. Criminals will now be more difficult to forge them or use the stolen documents, explained Tove Ernst — a representative of the European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. In addition, the border guards will be able to quickly determine the authenticity of the document.

"The measure of an unnecessary and dangerous"?

Despite the advantages of biometric passports, their introduction in Germany was preceded by heated debate. They were not only leading politicians, but also experts in the field of the protection of citizens' personal data. One of the reasons for criticism was the introduction of digital fingerprint biometric passports. According to Thilo Vayherta (Thilo Weichert), the Commissioner for Data Protection in Schleswig-Holstein, fingerprints will not make the passport more secure.

"The government believes that with the help of electronic fingerprints will be increased reliability of German passports. This is nonsense. Hardly in the world there is another way protected from counterfeit passport, as our German" — said the expert.

And Wolfgang Wieland (Wolfgang Wieland), the expert of the party "green", said the introduction of electronic fingerprint "measure unnecessary and dangerous." German politician is among the opponents of electronic documents that warn about the dangers of unauthorized use of biometric data.

Thilo Vayhert also concerned about the possible abuse of personal data. "First of all, we are talking about countries with less developed democracies than ours. We do not know what can be done with personal data, including fingerprints," — says a German expert.

According to him, at the moment when the information is read from the electronic chip passports still use the same technology as in 2007. Although experts have already talked about its main weakness: the rate a microchip does not check if the scanner is the right of access to electronic data.

Also, stored on an electronic microchip data can be read even if the sheet is in a pocket or bag. "Already in 2007, we were advised to carry biometric passports in the carrying case, so as to prevent unauthorized reading of biometric data of the document," — said the expert. With the help of special equipment can also track the route of the owner of the biometric document.

The fears were not confirmed

However, according to Juliana Heinrich (Juliane Heinrich), the authorized spokesperson of the German Government for the protection of personal data, experts fear did not materialize. In an interview with DW, she explained that the ability to read the information stored on electronic media, is very limited.

"Passport, as well as internal identity contain sensitive biometric data, access to which workers can receive only relevant services, such as Border — when checking identity documents," — she said. According to Juliana Heinrich, misuse of biometric data in Germany are unknown.

Having listened to the criticism of experts, the government of Germany introduced a new equipment to read the data from the electronic chip on identity cards. To prevent unauthorized access to the information on the microchip, it automatically checks to see if the scanner is the right of access to electronic data. But, as said Thilo Vayhert even such innovations do not guarantee complete security, so you need to constantly improve the technologies.

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