Canada, finger, privacy, transparency, travel, visa

Canada Moving Toward Biometric Visitor Visas

Appeal mechanism needed for biometric visa plan due to imperfect system: report (Winnipeg Free Press)

Saying no biometrics system is perfect, an internal report urges the federal government to create an avenue of appeal for visa applicants who are rejected because of a false fingerprint match. The Conservative government is moving toward using biometrics — such as fingerprints, iris scans and other unique identifiers — to vet all foreigners entering the country.

As a first step, it soon plans to require applicants for a visitor visa, study permit or work permit to submit 10 electronic fingerprints and a photo before they arrive in Canada. The prints will be searched against RCMP databanks. Upon arrival the Canada Border Services Agency will use the data to verify that the visa holder is the same person as the applicant.

The big news is that Canada is going biometric with its travel visas.

The author’s discussion of appeals and privacy, however, seems a bit overwrought.

Any ID management system, whether it has to do with biometrics or not, must include provisions for sussing out mistakes (appeals) and maintaining the security (privacy) of information.

Biometric systems aren’t robots about to take over the Canada Border Services Agency, they’re just another tool for them to use and adding a fingerprint to the visa system will, in all likelihood, reduce the number of mistaken identifications and streamline the existing appeals process.

The article continues…

It [the report] says that in addition to false matches, privacy concerns associated with the use of biometric technologies can also include unauthorized use of the information, discrimination through profiling or surveillance, and retention of the data beyond the length of time needed.

To preserve the privacy rights of applicants, the report also recommends:
— those applying for visas be told what information will be collected and how it will be used;
— there be standards as to how long the fingerprints, photos and biographical details are kept and when they should be destroyed;
— memoranda between Citizenship and Immigration and the RCMP and border services agency be reviewed to determine what additional provisions for privacy and security may be needed.

It’s not entirely clear that “transparency” rather than “privacy” isn’t the proper prism for examining the issues surrounding the information provided by visa applicants.

It’s really nice of Canada to be considerate of the sensitivities of visa applicants, to deal with them in a transparent manner, and take thorough decisions regarding data retention, but if someone wants to visit a country that requires them to procure a visa, privacy (ed. between the applicant and the visa issuing country) doesn’t really enter into it. They either supply the required information or they don’t and those issues come up with or without biometrics.

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