NEWS

Travelers checking in may have voice patterns, faces, DNA scanned

The use of biometric technology in identifying passengers at Athens’s international airport is to be used in a pilot program with Alitalia passengers on its flight to Milan. Irrespective of the fact that the program lasts only six months (from November to April 2004), it forms part of the «S-Travel» (Secure-Travel) program, an initiative sponsored by the European Commission and the Swiss Office for Education and Science in order to address air travel security issues. It is part of a comprehensive effort to develop biometric technology (the analysis of unique human body characteristics such as fingerprints, voice patterns, body shape, even DNA). The use of biometrics is one of the most controversial issues in the world today. Its benefits are precision and speed of identification, which is supposed to be attractive to passengers, since by acquiring a biometric «smart card» they will not have to wait in line at airports for identification checks. The European Commission is to introduce two biometric features (fingerprints and digital facial images) in issuing visas to travelers from third countries after 2005. The biometric information will be stored in the Visa Information System along with the Schengen digital files (SIS). But this is only the first step, as biometrics will also be used in issuing European passports. Many view the use of biometric technology as a violation of democratic rights. In most European countries there are no fingerprints on ID cards; recently they were also abolished in Greece. The Authority for the Protection of Personal Information expressly states that the «use of biometric methods is permissible only where demanded by the special security requirements and only if there is no other way to achieve this end.»