[The following are excerpts of the testimony before the House Judiciary Committee,Washington, D.C., April 21, 2004.]
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the progress of those countries participating in our Visa Waiver Program (VWP) toward producing passports with embedded biometrics by October 26, 2004. I am here to explain the Administration's request for an extension of this deadline. Moreover, I want to report on the Department of State's progress in implementing our own biometric programs for U.S. passports and visas.
President Bush's number one priority is the security of our homeland. Secretary Ridge and I share that commitment. Secretary Ridge is responsible for our visa policy and I am responsible for its implementation.
The inclusion of biometrics in international travel documents is a critical step in upgrading security for America. And in protecting travelers, it is imperative that we improve our ability to verify the identities of prospective travelers to our country, especially individuals who might be terrorists, criminals, or others who present a security risk.
The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act (EBSA) established October 26, 2004, as a deadline. By that date, VWPcountries must begin issuing their nationals only passports that incorporate biometric identifiers that comply with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards. Also by that date, all VWP travelers must enter the U.S. with a machine-readable passport.
In May 2003, ICAO decided to make facial recognition technology the standard passport biometric, leaving VWP countries only seventeen months to bring a biometric passport from design to production. Such a process normally takes years. The EBSA does not provide a waiver provision and very few, if any, of the twenty-seven participating VWP countries will be able to meet this legislatively mandated deadline. Although the governments of the …