Germany adds digital fingerprints to passports

German passports will feature several biometric security measures aimed at fighting organized crime and international terrorism

Germany will store digital fingerprints in addition to digital photos in passports as one of several biometric security measures planned to fight organized crime and international terrorism.

All new passports issued from November will store two digital fingerprints in an embedded chip, which, since 2005, includes a digital photo, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior said Friday.

While fingerprints will be stored exclusively in passport chips, photos will continue to be saved additionally in databases of local authorities. A new amendment gives police and other authorized government officials online access to these databases.

Unlike several other countries in Europe and abroad, Germany has no central database for photos or fingerprints of all citizens or for registered foreigners living in the country, and currently lacks plans to establish one, according to a ministry spokeswoman.

Centralized data, including photos and fingerprints, exists only for people registered with the police for criminal activity, and for applicants for German visas.

Only readers equipped with a new cryptographic protocol can read the passports including both photos and fingerprints.

The Extended Access Control system connects the chip and the reader by establishing a secure communications channel over a distance of 10 centimeters to 20 centimeters.

Moves by the German government to digitize increased levels of personal data and link databases among authorities have led to an outcry by some groups, including federal and state data privacy commissioners. At a meeting in Düsseldorf on Friday, the commissioners criticized the government's programs that amass personal data, including telephone records, and its plans to give greater power to police officials to monitor terrorists and other criminals online by allowing them to hack into computers.

In 2008, the German government plans new ID cards for all citizens with the same biometric features, according to the spokeswoman. "There are three primary reasons to issue biometric ID cards: to avoid false IDs, strengthen the identification process and also offer an authorization possibility for services such as online purchases," she said.

By 2010, Germany hopes to have a new central database containing core data about each citizen and registered inhabitant of the country, according to the spokeswoman. The data includes name, birthday and address but will not contain a photo or fingerprints, she said.

In February, the government passed a law allowing security officials in the country to create the largest and most comprehensive pool of personal data ever amassed in the country. The databases of nearly 40 different agencies, including the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), are now being linked to allow authorities to run searches on suspected individuals and retrieve information within minutes.

An expanded index file is being created for suspected terrorists. The file will contain the person's name, bank account number, telephone number, e-mail address, driver's license information and other data, including the names of companies, organizations and other parties associated with the person and linked to terrorist groups.

Since the start of this week, law enforcement officials in Germany and Austria have electronic access to each other's criminal fingerprint databases. Since 2006, the countries have shared their DNA databases as one of several measures agreed by some European Union nations under the Treaty of Prüm in 2005.