from the October 2007 issue

Interior Ministry adopting biometric passports

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit recently declared that as Israel's passports and identity cards are easily counterfeited, he will push to replace all of them to increase security and meet the increasingly stringent requirements of other countries admitting Israeli visitors.

The Israeli branch of the 3M company was surely pleased to hear the news. The mother company is one of the world's leaders in the production of electronic and biometric documents. Biometric refers to the scanning of parts of the body, from fingerprints to the internal structure of the eye. No two people have the same biometric characteristics - a fact that makes this the perfect system for identification in the wake of terror threats.

So far, 40 countries - including Germany, France and England - have changed their passport system to a biometric one that includes information about the bearer encrypted into a chip. The US is in the process of the changeover.

According to Amit Hayut, director of the security and government sector for 3M-Israel, the electronic passport is in effect a "book" whose first page contains a chip with all the relevant data about its holder. There is a digital photo, plus the possibility of crossmatching the holder with biometric information from his eye or fingerprint. In the future, voice identification and even DNA records might be included. When the holder reaches airport security, the passport and individual will be scanned to see if the data match, and whether the person is permitted to pass. Such a system is expected to be operating in all European airports and the US by 2009, so all Israeli citizens will need electronic documentation if they want to travel to these destinations.

Amit says e-passports will shorten queues and even eliminate visa applications. The cost of producing a biometric passport is $10 to $20, compared to $3 today. Of course, countries will also have to invest in electronic "readers." Amit maintains that his firm offers more comprehensive solutions, and is ready to start producing e-passports in less than a year.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report October 2007

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