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Stamp of approval for new passports

Parliament has approved the widespread introduction of biometric passports and identity cards for citizens from the middle of 2009.

The passports – which have been in a trial phase since September 2006 – will include a chip that stores two fingerprints and the holder’s facial image.

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said on Wednesday that the cost of obtaining a biometric passport – currently SFr250 ($243) – would be lowered. Citizens not wanting to travel abroad may opt for a less expensive, non-biometric identification card.

Critics of the system have raised privacy concerns, but authorities have promised that personal data – which is to be stored in a central database – will stay secure.

The introduction of the biometric passport was a requirement under the Schengen open-border treaty, which Switzerland has signed up to.

It should make life easier for travellers entering the United States. Currently, travellers to the US with conventional passports issued after October 2006 require a visa.

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