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What is biometrics?

Each of us have unique biological features and biometrics is the use of technology to read these biological features to verify an individuals identity while countering identity fraud. While there are six generic types of biometric in use today (face, eye(s), finger(s), hand, signature and voice), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has identified facial recognition as the primary biometrics with fingerprints and iris (eye) recognition as backup for use in machine readable travel documents (MRTDs i.e. passports, travel documents & visas). The biometric information (data) is stored on a chip that is inserted in to the passport which is then matched against the biometric information scanned at the point of entry or exit

Facial biometrics

Facial recognition was selected as the globally interoperable biometric for machine-assisted identity confirmation with MRTDs. In a comprehensive analysis of various available biometrics, the face rated highest in terms of compatibility with key operational considerations, followed by fingers and eyes. The face has long been used by border control authorities and airline staff at airports to confirm identity with a “photo ID”. Facial recognition technology automates this process, using a camera to capture the image of the face, while a computer validates facial characteristics.

Global Interoperability

The use of a single biometric technology by all States is preferred, as this would ensure global interoperability, i.e. that persons presenting MRTDs issued anywhere in the world would be able to have their identity confirmed at any other location, as the rightful holders of their documents. However, it is also recognized that some States may conclude it desirable to deploy two biometrics features on the same document.

ICAO blueprint for biometrics

On 28 May, 2003 the ICAO adopted a global, harmonized blueprint for the integration of biometric identification information into passports and other MRTDs. The increased use of biometric-enhanced MRTDs will lead to speedier passage of travelers through airport controls, heightened aviation security and added protection against identity theft.

ICAO also has selected high-capacity, contactless integrated circuit (IC) chips to store identification information in MRTDs i.e. passports, visas and identity cards.

Current Scenario

All of ICAO’s 188 Contracting States must start issuing ICAO standard Machine Readable Passports (MRPs) by 1st April 2010. About 125 states currently do so while more than 40 are planning to upgrade to biometrically enhanced versions i.e. e-passports by the end of 2006. This move has primarily been necessitated by the United States requiring all the countries that it has Visa Waiver Programme with to start issuing chip based passports to keep availing visa waiver facility for their citizens while traveling to the US.

The New Technologies Working Group (NTWG) of ICAO has been working on the proposal for hybrid card/book options for biometric enabled passports. This proposal is based on the development of an ID-1 size biometric enabled passport card that would be associated with but separable from a passport book. It is envisaged that a card containing a biometric could be carried with the passport in a pouch that might form part of the passport book or be otherwise attached to the book. The development of a hybrid card/book option would (a) avoid the risk of damage to the chip embedded in a book (b) provide the means to upgrade or replace a chip as technology develops and (c) provide the means of replacing chips at a lower cost without the need to replace the MRP-book.

Source: ICAO

While states are encouraged to incorporate biometrics on their passport this is not a mandatory requirement. The Passport Section is closely following the developments related to biometric enabled passports and provisions have been kept in mind whereby biometrics could be considered for future incorporation should this be necessitated in a cost effective manner.


The Passport Section will collect fingerprint the first time an applicant applies for a machine readable passport/travel document. This biometric information shall be stored along with the applicant’s personal details in the Passport Database and used for future verification and identification purposes.

The fingerprint standard adopted in consultation with the Royal Bhutan Police is 12 minutiae points in full coincident sequence in two separate fingerprint images.