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Europe

Germany and U.S. To Redouble Security Measures

U.S. Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge is in Berlin Wednesday to meet with Interior Minister Otto Schily. On the agenda are controversial U.S. plans requiring Europeans to have biometric data on their passports.

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Eye-scans and biometric passports - the future of travel.

If the U.S. government has their way, most Europeans travelling to America will soon have to be outfitted with passports containing biometric data like their face or fingerprints.

But the October 2004 deadline set by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security proved to be too soon for European officials, who balked at implementing the complicated and complex measure. To smooth the process, the department's head Tom Ridge is meeting with one his strongest European allies Wednesday to get some support.


German Interior Minister Otto Schily has already backed the idea of biometric data on German passports. The German parliament approved the legal framework for such a step as part of a raft of anti-terror legislation following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Eye-scans at Frankfurt airport

Beginning in December, the interior ministry will set up a trial iris-scan check-in system at Frankfurt airport for passengers who already have biometric passports.

Under the system, which he wants to finalize in June, travellers to non-EU countries will stand in front of a machine which scans their eye and then matches the data with that stored in a biometric chip in their passport.

"We're making it harder for forgeries and misuse," a spokeswoman told the magazine Focus this week.

But not all 15 EU countries are pleased with the method. The majority don't want to set up the costly eye-scan system, preferring instead to scan travellers' faces or the fingerprints. The interior ministers hope to reach a compromise soon.

Police, praise most likely also on the agenda

Schily and Rich will spend most of the scheduled hour Wednesday morning making their way through 21 agenda points. Chief among the talking points is the biometric data, said a ministry spokeswoman. But Germany's offer to train Iraqi policemen and German police work in Afghanistan is also expected to be a major point of discussion.

In response to U.S. President George W. Bush's appeal for more help in stabilizing the chaotic situation in Iraq, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder offered to open up German police officer training schools to Iraqi policemen. Germany's men in green have already been deployed in the Balkans and Afghanistan in order to teach the locals the basics of good policing.

No meeting between Schily and his justice counter-parts in the U.S. can go by without mention of German-U.S. cooperation in the war on terrorism. The two countries recently signed a cooperation agreement which formalized a working relationship that has prospered since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Though the relationship between the two countries hit some rough waters on the executive level, the Bush administration has repeatedly praised German law-enforcement's aggressiveness in tracking down terror cells. But some believe Germany needs to do more. A recent study by the respected Bertelsmann Stiftung revealed that the cooperation between German law enforcement agencies isn't as fluid as it could be. Intelligence agencies often don't talk to state or federal law enforcement, meaning that many investigations are running parallel.

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