France launches electronic passports

France has begun issuing electronic passportsthat will allow its citizens to travel to the United States withouta visa, according to Amsterdam-based Axalto.

The smart-card vendor is providing France’sprinting office, the Imprimerie Nationale, with approximately 2million electronic covers for the new passports this year.

The e-passports include smart cards containing the holder’spersonal information and a biometric identifier, and will first beissued in a district of Paris. Their use will be extended tocitizens in the rest of France by the end of May, Axaltosaid.

“By delivering these new e-passports to theFrench government, Imprimerie Nationale has been especiallyresponsive in implementing the new technologies required for amodern administrative France,” said Loic Lenoir de la Cochetiere,Chairman and CEO of Imprimerie Nationale SA.

The new travel documents use Axalto’s e-passporttechnology, Axseal — a highly secure operating system withencryption algorithms that work on a contactless chip incorporatedinto the passport’s cover, the company said. In addition to theidentity information contained on the first page of the document,the chip features the passport holder’s digitized photo, Axaltosaid.

“You have an electronic copy inside a chip thatcan’t be tampered with or altered and the access to it iscontrolled with various security mechanisms so the privacy of thepassport holder is maintained,” said Neville Pattinson, Axalto’sdirector of Technology & Government Affairs.

Under the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, visitorsfrom 27 mostly European countries, including France, need biometricdata encoded in their passport if it was issued after October 2005and they want to travel to the U.S. without a visa, Pattinson said.By the end of October, all countries in the visa-waiver programmust produce chip-enabled, biometrically enhanced passports,Pattinson said. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security willinstall document readers that read the e-passports at United Statesports of entry.

France joins a handful of other countries,including Japan, Sweden and Australia that are issuing thesee-passports before the deadline. The U.S. expects to issue its ownelectronic passports by the end of the year.

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