State Department Puts Biometric Chips in U.S. Passports

Penny Starr | July 10, 2013 | 2:29pm EDT
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U.S. passport with the biometric integrated circuit. (AP)

( – Since 2002, the federal government has required foreigners entering the United States through the State Department’s Visa Waiver Program to have a biometric integrated circuit in their passport. But the State Department itself extended that requirement in 2007 to cover U.S. passports issued to U.S. citizens.

When asked by why the decision was made to include biometric chips in the passports of U.S. citizens, it was referred to the department website’s Frequently Asked Questions about electronic passports.

According to the website, the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 required foreigners participating in the Visa Waiver Program--which permits entry into the United States without a VISA for a limited period of time--to have these integrated circuits or chips on their passport.

“As a security measure, Congress has legislated that all countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program with the United States must issue passports with integrated circuits (chips), to permit storage of at least a digital image of the passport photograph for use with face recognition technology,” the website states.

The website also says that since 2007 the State Department has been issuing U.S. passports bearing the chips. The department did this on its own authority, and not in response to any statutory mandate enacted by Congress.

“The United States is doing so on a reciprocal basis and will comply with the latest international standards established for secure travel documents,” the website states. “The U.S. Electronic Passport (e-passport) is the same as a regular passport with the addition of a small contactless integrated circuit (computer chip) embedded in the back cover.”

“The chip securely stores the same data visually displayed on the photo pages of the passport, and additionally includes a digital photograph,” the website reports.

The website notes that “previously issued” passports without chips can still be used for travel, with the exception of VWP travelers.  But a U.S. citizen cannot obtain a new passport now without a chip.

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