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Chapter: 

Introduction

From September 30 2004, all visitors to the United States will be face-scanned and fingerprinted at the border. These measures are part of a vast integrated information storage, matching and profiling system. The increased surveillance at borders poses significant challenges to civil liberties, to race relations and to the functioning of a free and open society.

The U.S. Visitor & Immigration Status Indication Technology System (US VISIT) has been deployed in response to significant issues of security, but in spite of its public interest objectives the system places human dignity and privacy at substantial risk. U.S. authorities claim VISIT is a necessary weapon in the fight against terrorism. On closer analysis the system is fundamentally flawed and has the potential to be a corrosive and dangerous practice that will spread internationally.

  • VISIT employs technology and techniques that are unreliable and unpredictable. The matching of information between a large number of systems generates substantial errors, while the use of biometrics such as finger-printing involves the risk of false accusations on a mass scale because of the inherent frailty of one to many systems.
  • VISIT ignores the legal concept of proportionality by creating mass surveillance in order to identify a relatively small number of suspects.
  • VISIT redefines due process. Where previously people would be fingerprinted and scrutinised upon suspicion, they are now all suspects until at least temporarily eliminated from suspicion. There is no meaningful oversight. While Europe has several mechanisms, such as the European Court of Human Rights, in North America protections are minimal as National Security interests trumps all rights of data protection.
  • VISIT abolishes all principles of privacy. It accumulates personal information indiscriminately, collecting and sharing this information for unforeseen purposes, and retaining it over our lifetimes.

A child entering the U.S. on October 1 will have her fingerprints on record for the rest of her life. There is no end to the uses to which this sensitive information will be put, nor any meaningful borders or boundaries limiting the flow of this data. This is why governments around the world have expressed both concern and excitement by the system.

For these and other reasons Privacy International is providing a Q&A analysis regarding US- VISIT.

  1. Will the U.S. Government protect my personal information against abuse?
  2. Will this information only be used to combat terrorism?
  3. What's wrong with the U.S. Government protecting its borders?
  4. If I have nothing to hide, then why should I be worried?