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In 2004, Belgium was a forerunner in introducing electronic chips in its passports. These chips contained the passport holder’s personal data, signature and photo.
Ten years later, in April 2014, all new Belgian passports issued also contained - in their electronic chip - the holder's fingerprints.
This recording of fingerprints follows on from a European obligation which concerns some 500 million European citizens.
A twofold security objective
By introducing biometrics into its citizens' passports, the European Union intends to improve the security of:
- Citizens themselves: by guaranteeing that they have a travel document that is almost impossible to forge, offering greater protection against identity theft;
- Territories: by combating identity fraud, which is constantly on the rise and which affects many states.
Exceptions concerning the recording of digital fingerprints
Every passport applicant must provide their digital fingerprints.
Europe has provided for 2 exceptions:
- Children under the age of 12.
- Where it is physically and definitively impossible to provide fingerprints (missing fingers, a disability or malformed hand, etc.).
A safe and tamper-proof passport
Belgium is the 39th participating State in the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) Public Key Directory (PKD) since the end of 2013. The PKD is an international system allowing the exchange of certificates to verify the authenticity and integrity of electronic chips, for example in passports. Through a complex exchange of codes, PKD Member States can therefore check whether any passport presented at their borders has actually been issued by the official foreign authority. Using the PKD, any attempt to tamper with a passport or alter the data stored on its chip can immediately be detected at the border.
The European Commission's External Borders Fund co-funded Belgium's membership of the ICAO's PKD.
Introduced at the start of the decade, this European trend to make travel documents more secure has gained momentum due to:
- Council Regulation (EC) no. 2252/2004 of 13 December 2004;
- The Commission Implementing Decision of 28 February 2005 on the storage of the facial image of passport holders on the passport chip;
- The Commission Implementing Decision of 28 June 2006 on the additional storage of fingerprints on the passport chip.