Welcome to the new normal.
Starting January 2013, Citizenship and Immigration Canada will implement a host of changes that will overhaul the entire immigration system—from revising the point grid for selection of new immigrants to the new Skilled Trades Stream designed to address labour shortages to facilitating travel to Canada if you’re visiting or working. “These changes are long overdue and will help us move to a fast and flexible immigration system that works for Canada’s economy,” Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced in a recent press release.
Underneath all these new changes is a seemingly harmless but potentially discriminatory policy to require nationals from 29 countries and one territory to provide their biometrics when they apply to travel to Canada to visit, study or work. Requiring fingerprints and photographs, Minister Kenney stressed, is “one of the most effective ways to identify individuals entering the country. By providing immigration officials with greater certainty, biometrics will facilitate legitimate travel to Canada.”
|Since the events on September 11, 2001, the biometric community|
has made vast technological improvements in protecting the United
States and its borders. Click link to view "Biometrics Since 9/11,"
This new requirement for biometrics applies to all persons from the following countries: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Vietnam, and Yemen.
One can only begin to speculate why these countries were selected, with the exclusion of others. A common thread that binds these countries is the ongoing war or civil strife in their territories that makes them a natural breeding ground for Islamic terrorists and intransigent rebel groups, or for criminals to operate. Right away, biometrics stigmatizes applicants from these countries since there is a putative perception they are being targeted precisely for the purpose of singling out undesirables like those engaged in terrorism or criminality.
Canada Immigration is using code words such as “legitimate travel” and “to protect the safety and security of Canadians” which Mr. Kenney has emphasized in his press release. This means that those who are engaged in terrorism and criminality pose a great danger to Canadian society and should be not be allowed to enter the country. But in identifying a pool of specific countries that should provide biometrics, Canada Immigration is immediately marking people from these source-countries as potentially unwelcome in Canada.
Biometrics has long been used in criminal proceedings, as well as in private and commercial transactions. But the infamy of September 11, 2001 ushered in greater concerns to control and secure the border from unwanted individuals. The U.S. Congress passed the Patriot Act in October 2011 requiring all foreign visitors to provide machine-readable, biometric travel documents, and put into place an entry-exit system to monitor movements to and from the country.
Next year, before newcomers are allowed to step into Canada, their biometric data will be checked to ensure that the individual who was approved to travel is in fact the same person who is entering Canada. The use of biometrics in immigration and border control will bring Canada up-to-date with other countries already using the system which includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, countries in the European Union Schengen Zone, Japan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia.
Biometrics are physiological or behavioral characteristics used to recognize or verify the identity of a living person. They are digital fingerprints and photographs that are to be embedded in a Canadian visa. Any one of the different types of biometric information can allow border security guards to make rapid and precise, one-to-one (authentication) or one-to-many (verification), identity checks.
There are, however, significant human rights ramifications inherent in the collection, processing and distribution of a person’s biometrics which creates hostility between public policy and the individual’s right to privacy. This friction is now at the heart of the biometrics debate.
Rebekah Thomas, an associate policy and research officer at the Global Commission on International Migration in Geneva and a specialist in international human rights law, has urged policy makers to look at the biometrics debate “from the migrants' perspective because the development of biometric technology is particularly discriminatory towards migrants, both in its application and its effect.”
In When Biometrics Fail: Gender, Race, and the Technology of Identity, Shoshana Amielle Magnet contends that very often these technologies fail to work. Magnet is an assistant professor in the Institute of Women’s Studies and the Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa. Her study shows that at the moment when biometrics fail, these technologies prove that they work differently and fail to function more often, on women, people of colour, and people with disabilities. Prof. Magnet’s book evaluates the state’s use of biometrics to control and classify vulnerable and marginalized populations—including prisoners, welfare recipients, immigrants, and refugees—and to track individuals beyond a nation’s territorial boundaries.
Things that once seemed like science fiction are now easily usable and can be shared to track immigrants, criminals, welfare recipients or terrorists. In the United States, for example, DNA is now collected from almost anyone who comes in contact with the criminal justice system, and the expansion of DNA collection is becoming a real and serious threat because DNA has the potential to reveal so much information about an individual. The frontier is being stretched and we are not sure which areas could be next.
|U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham say that a federally issued|
ID card with biometric information is necessary to curb illegal immigration to
the United States. Click link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFewUlszMTQ
to view "The National Biometric ID Card: The Mark of the Beast?"
Critics of the use of biometrics in immigrant tracking suggest biometrics should enhance rather than conflict with individual privacy. That it should focus more on preventing identity theft and in providing increased anonymity for the user. Easier said than done because for the most part governments are more concerned with the security and welfare of the greater society rather than protecting an individual’s right to privacy. Privacy is a fundamental human right upheld under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and entrenched in almost every national law. But when it runs in conflict with the greater good such as the state’s security, privacy is usually trumped by public policy that aims to protect the state.
The right to privacy is usually assured through minimum guarantees that personalized computerized data will not be compromised. But these guarantees can be difficult to uphold in the case of biometrics because one of its weaknesses is lack of credibility, whether from error or their vulnerability to interference. When data, for instance, is transferred across different agencies and countries, there is a greater risk that it will trickle into more controversial areas of immigration control, such as tracking and surveillance. This is known as “function creep,” which means data is used for other purposes not foreseen or not consented to at that time it was collected.
Biometric measures are generally criticized for the tendency to discriminate against migrants, partly because of state policy to tackle illegal immigration and as an unavoidable consequence of their contact with borders. Immigrants from Third-World countries, for example those nationals from the 29 countries required by Canada Immigration to provide biometrics, are more likely to need visas for entry, and certain nationals and ethnic groups are deliberately targeted by immigration controls because of fear of terrorism and criminality.
For refugees and asylum seekers, or for just being included in the 29 countries required to provide biometrics, the process of having their biometric information collected may be a terrifying and traumatic experience. As earlier said, belonging to these 29 countries has a stigmatizing effect—the stigma of criminal activity attached to fingerprints or “mug shots,” for example.
Advocates of biometrics argue that these effects are unavoidable in order to ensure border security. Automation of identity checks and consequently raising the level of confidence in border security and immigration controls could reduce the negative myths and stereotypes about migrants and refugees. Traffickers would also be hindered in their attempts to use false identities.
Yet many of these biometric measures target nationals of particular countries who are also entitled to their fundamental human rights. Thus, it becomes more than doubly difficult to balance the policy of the state to secure its borders with the right of the individual to privacy.
A study made by the Global Commission on International Migration in Geneva shows scant evidence from the U.S. and the United Kingdom that biometric technology has contributed to reducing either terrorism or irregular migration. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, more than 200 persons have been arrested since the January 2004 launch of US-VISIT, a program that electronically tracks the entry and exit of foreign visitors using biographical information and biometric identifiers. Those arrested include “convicted rapists, drug traffickers, individuals convicted of credit card fraud, a convicted armed robber, and numerous immigration violators and individuals attempting visa fraud.” After processing over 2.5 million visitors, no terrorist suspects have been caught to date, and these statistics do nothing to change the numbers of migrants who enter legitimately, but who become irregular once inside the country.
Security and human rights, however, are not necessarily incompatible principles. The application of biometric technology can certainly operate within a context that reconciles the needs and rights of both the state and the individual. Achieving the right balance may be elusive at this early stage of biometric applications, but this doesn’t mean that we should give up on our rights to privacy.
Perhaps, the more sensible way is to approach immigration reform and anti-terrorism as two separate and distinct issues. There should be proportionality between biometric data collection and usage and privacy rights. This would make it easier to assess if the measures undertaken are effective enough to justify interference with privacy rights.