UK, Canada, Australia to share fingerprint database

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Announced yesterday, Australia is planning to share its fingerprints database of foreign criminals and asylum seekers with Canada and the United Kingdom, allowing all three countries’ relevant departments flag migrants who try to hide away from authorities, with assurances that the data will be protected.

The agreement is also set to have the United States to join at a later stage, and New Zealand considering to join in the near future via legislation. All five parties are members of the Five Country Conference, a forum on improving immigration control and border security.

“This new agreement will help us identify and remove individuals whose identities were previously unknown but also improve public safety through better detection of lawbreakers and those coming to the UK for  no good,” Jonathan Sedgwick, UK Border Agency Deputy Chief Executive, said in a press statement.

“We already have one of the toughest borders in the world and we are determined to ensure it stays that way.”

“Canada has had a long-standing collaborative relationship with the FCC countries and I am pleased that we are building on this partnership,” Canada’s Minister for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney said in a separate statement from the Canadian Government.

“Through this initiative, we are tackling identity fraud and abuse of our immigration and refugee programs, while at the same time ensuring that Canada continues to welcome genuine refugees.”

“Along with our international partners, we are making a commitment to ensure the safety and security of our respective countries. This is one way that we are balancing Canada’s priority of economic prosperity while using innovative ways to enhance border security,” added Minster for Public Safety Peter Van Loan.

Australia’s Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, has said that the agreements will not affect privacy laws, and that the new measures will reduce identity fraud.

“If somebody arrives here with no papers, us merely collecting their fingerprint doesn’t assist greatly at that time but if they’ve got a fingerprint match in the United States or in the UK then you’re able to share information of who that might be,” he said.

“It’s not being collected on Australian citizens, it’s being collected on third country nationals. So we will be sharing with the other countries information on third country nationals who have come to our attention or have been detained.”

For the UK, this is an additional boost to its already-established data-sharing agreements with its European counterparts; and trials with this type of agreement have already been proven to work, according to the UK Home Office, quoting one incident:

In one such case, an individual claiming asylum in the UK as a Somali was found to have previously been fingerprinted on arrival in the USA while travelling on an Australian passport.

Australia subsequently confirmed that the individual was an Australian citizen wanted for rape. This resulted in his deportation to Australia, where he faced court proceedings and is now serving a jail sentence.

The agreement will allow all three countries to have the same ability to check fingerprints of 3,000 sets of fingerprints from one of the three countries in its first year, with this number set to rise in the following years. Measures to protect personal information include that all data remains anonymous before being found to be a positive match, all fingerprints to be destroyed if it fails to match, and protecting the files with encryption and other security tools.

Image: chadmiller/Flickr (CC)

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