- LONDON (Reuters) - International
travelers should get used to having their fingerprints taken or their irises
scanned because traditional airport security tests are outdated and open
to abuse, a leading U.S. official said on Thursday.
- "As a general principle, certainly in the area of
international travel, biometrics is the way forward in virtually every
respect," said Michael Chertoff, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary.
- "When we screen based on names, we're screening
on the most primitive and least technological basis of identification --
it's the most susceptible to misspelling, or people changing their identity,
- "Biometrics is the way ahead."
- Chertoff was speaking to reporters after meeting British
officials during a four-day visit to Europe to discuss transatlantic security
- On Monday he visited the Netherlands, which will pilot
a scheme later this year to allow passengers flying between New York's
JFK airport and Amsterdam's Schiphol airport to pass through border controls
using a biometric card.
- If they can produce the card, travelers will not be subjected
to further questioning or screening.
- The scheme is the first of its kind to be launched between
the United States and a European country and, if it works, could be adopted
- The United States hopes the use of biometric testing
will help prevent potential terrorists entering the country and cut down
confusion about who is allowed in and who is not.
- The most high profile case of confusion involving a British
citizen came in September last year when Yusuf Islam, the singer formerly
known as Cat Stevens, was barred from entering the United States after
boarding a plane from London.
- U.S. officials diverted the flight 600 miles from its
destination of Washington D.C, took Islam off the plane and sent him back
- Washington said his name appeared on their no-fly lists
and he was stopped because his activities "could be potentially linked
to terrorism." Britain, where Islam is a renowned educationalist and
respected member of the Muslim community, insisted he was harmless.
- Britain is one of 27 countries whose citizens do not
need a visa to enter the United States if they intend to stay less than
90 days. Washington wants all 27 to issue new passports by Oct. 26 this
year containing a computer chip and a digital photograph of the holder.
- Chertoff stressed the need for these countries to talk
to each other about the kind of chips they were using to avoid the emergence
of rival testing systems.
- He made an analogy with the "video war" of
the early 1980s, when VHS and Betamax vied for dominance as the industry
standard for video recording systems.
- "It would be a very bad thing if we all invested
huge amounts of money in biometric systems and they didn't work with each
other," he said. "Hopefully were not going to do VHS and Betamax
with our chips," he added. "I was one of the ones who bought
Betamax and that's now in the garbage."