Privacy czar worried about plan to share fingerprint details

Posted by admin on Aug 22nd, 2009

By Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News Service. August 22, 2009

Calling asylum seekers a “vulnerable group,” Canada’s privacy commissioner expressed concern yesterday about a new government plan to share fingerprint information with Britain and Australia to combat immigration fraud. The three-country agreement was announced yesterday with little fanfare, with all three countries providing assurances that no one’s privacy would be violated and that no database for the prints would be created.

A lawyers’ group in Australia also raised privacy concerns about the plan, which the United States and New Zealand are expected to join later.

The offices of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan made the announcement along with their counterparts in London and Canberra, calling it a “landmark initiative” that would “improve our ability to identify foreign nationals who are seeking to enter Canada and who are trying to hide their past from authorities.”

Though Immigration had “demonstrated its legislative authority” to go ahead with the plan, privacy commissioner spokeswoman Anne-Marie Hayden said, “we nevertheless expressed some concerns, we had some questions, and made a number of recommendations.”

This included asking Immigration to explicitly explain its rationale or need for the “high-value data-sharing.”

In an e-mail, Hayden said: “Highly sensitive information such as fingerprints should be safeguarded with a correspondingly high level of security safeguards.”

In a 2007 trial, Canada shared the fingerprints of 343 refugee claimants with the United States and found matches in 124 cases, or 36 per cent. Of those, five per cent had a U.S. criminal history.

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