POLITICS

Biometric Visa System Imperfect For Canada Cited By Report

06/04/2012 04:53 EDT | Updated 08/04/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - 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.

A privacy impact assessment commissioned by the government says a redress mechanism is just one of the safeguards that should be built into the planned electronic system.

"In the context of digital scanning of fingerprints, no biometrics system is perfect," says the report, obtained by The Canadian Press.

It notes that two different fingers can mistakenly be matched, and measurements from the same finger can be rejected.

"A documented process is required if there is a dispute about the decision on admissibility when the client's dispute centres on the accuracy of the biometrics fingerprint evaluation."

Immigration and border services agency officials, along with the RCMP, should "establish and document a process and provide information to clients on complaint procedures and remedies" in the event of disputes about fingerprint accuracy, the report recommends.

An interim version of the privacy impact assessment was released under the Access to Information Act.

It 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.

The report says privacy was "an important consideration" in the design and implementation of an already completed biometrics field trial, including consultations with the federal privacy commissioner's office.

The federal agencies involved in the project have indicated that the privacy commissioner "will continue to be consulted" as the biometric plan develops, says the report. In addition, the privacy impact assessment will be updated.

Citizenship and Immigration had no immediate comment on the interim privacy assessment.

The government argues biometric verification will significantly reduce fraud and strengthen Canadian border security.

"It also means applicants will benefit from a reduced risk that their identity will be fraudulently used by someone else to gain access into Canada," the department says in a backgrounder on the project.

"Implementing biometrics will bring Canada in line with other countries — such as the United Kingdom and the United States — that already use biometrics for immigration and border security purposes."

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