US plans to retain visitors' fingerprints for 75 years
Thursday, 8th January, 2004
Fingerprints taken from Irish citizens on entry to the US will be retained indefinitely by the US authorities, even after the visa-holder has left the country. The requirement is part of US-VISIT, a new US security programme, writes Christine Newman.
A US-VISIT source in Washington told The Irish Times yesterday that fingerprints would be retained for 75 years.
"Under current regulations, data retention for fingerprints is 75 years and that is the same for immigration data," he said.
There were agreements and safeguards to protect privacy and to ensure the data was used only for immigration and other law enforcement purposes.
Data would be used only in specific instances, such as where a person was arrested. The data-retention policies were being reviewed and there could be changes, he added.
However, yesterday a spokesman in the Data Protection Commissioner's office in Dublin said: "If the fingerprints are for the purpose of confirming entry to the US and then again on departure, and that is the only reason, then they should be deleted."
If fingerprints were to be used in the long term, then the public should have the right to know so that they could choose whether they wanted to go to the US, the Dublin spokesman said. It was a matter for the US authorities but they should publicise the fact that fingerprints would be retained.
He said that if there were concerns about the scheme, then they could be brought up at a meeting of the EU body of data-protection commissioners rather than by an individual country. He added that the EU body, which meets about four times a year, would have no jurisdiction over what happened within the US.
The spokesman said that if the scheme was extended to non-visa-holding Irish immigrants, then the EU body would be likely to look into it.
He said a scheme for fingerprinting non-nationals entering EU states was already in operation and that there was a databank. Also in the future, it was likely that all passports would be required to have bio-metric chips.
The US-VISIT scheme in Ireland affects travellers on non-immigrant visas. Those who must be fingerprinted include people travelling to the US on temporary working visas or to study.
On the first day of the scheme, on January 4th, only 25 people of the 1,000 travelling from Shannon needed to have their fingerprints digitally scanned.