New Biometric Passports With Empty Chips Issued

The first biometric passports for Russians traveling abroad will be issued this month as Russia joins the world community in its efforts to fight terrorism, the Federal Migration Service said Friday.

The passport will include a special photograph of the holder and contain a microchip for digital finger or retina prints, Mikhail Turkin, deputy head of the Federal Migration Service, said at a news conference.

But the chip will remain empty for now because the government has yet to pass the necessary legislation, Turkin said. "We are ready for this technically, and we can implement it in a short time once it has been approved," he said.

The introduction of the next generation of passports is seen as an essential step in Russia's integration into the world community. The United States and many European Union countries have already started introducing biometric passports in an effort to prevent terrorism and crime.

A final decision on what information will be placed on the microchip has yet to be made by Russia and other countries, said Konstantin Poltoranin, a spokesman for the Federal Migration Service. He said some human rights concerns had to be addressed first.

The new Russian passport with the empty chip looks similar to the old passport except for some perforated figures on the pages and a thicker cover page with a digital photograph of the holder. Among other things, the photograph can be scanned at airports, Poltoranin said. For now, the photo can only be taken at 82 passport offices that are issuing the new document in Moscow.

The passport is being issued en masse after 135,000 of them were introduced under a pilot program in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Turkin said the passports would be issued nationwide by 2009 and the old ones would remain valid.