In an e-mail Monday, Chou Fang Soong, president of Gemplus South East Asia operations, said development work has begun and the ICA expects to commission the system in October. "Singapore citizens can begin to apply for biometric passports from October," said Soong.
The U.S. plan to embed RFID chips in passports is also moving forward, but some groups have expressed concern over privacy issues. The American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, has said RFID readers could be used to identify U.S. citizens by terrorists simply by reading their passports on the street.
"Privacy concerns have not been an issue here," said Chou in Singapore. "We believe that the issuance of electronic passport (technology), commonly used to address specific security issues, will be able to enhance the border security control." He noted that Singapore took security more seriously after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. in Septemter 11, of 2001.
The Gemplus e-passport solution is based on the firm's smart card technology. The contactless technology enables cards embedded in passports to be read from readers located four inches away. In addition, the technology meets standards promulgated by the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Biometric information about passport holders will be authenticated against information on the chip.
Details including fingerprint and facial data will be embedded in the chips for access later.
Could the system be used in North America?
While noting that it has been impossible to test North American biometric systems, Chou said Gemplus' system would likely operate in North America, because his firm has tested its system successfully at test events organized by the ICAO around the world.
"The results of these tests has shown high levels of interoperability of Gemplus solution with the different ePassport Readers available today," said Chou. "We are confident that the Gemplus ePassport will be interoperable with the system in North America."
The consortium rolling out the Singapore passport project is led by NEC Solutions Asia Pacific.