A scheme to gather biometric data from asylum seekers is being introduced in an effort to crack down on fraud and help identify those with overseas criminal records.The defences and criticisms use the trusty Casablanca Model (ie "round up the usual suspects").
Starting this week asylum seekers in Melbourne and Sydney are being asked to provide an image of their face and a scan of their fingerprints as part of a six-month voluntary trial. The data will be checked against records in the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand in a search for multiple identities and criminal backgrounds.
The scheme has been criticised by refugee and privacy advocates.
David Vaile of the Australian Privacy Foundation is quoted as worrying about the potential for biometric data to fall into the wrong hands when it is sent overseas: "The people who are implementing it are basically outsourcing the risks to the data subjects while retaining the benefits for themselves". Quite; that's usually what offshoring is about.
Refugee advocate Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is reported as attacking the program, saying - to use the Age's phrase - that "overwhelmingly people who arrived in Australia were honest in identifying themselves and posed no security risk".
Immigration minister Chris Evans claims that "This initiative will improve our current processes for identity-checking and assessing people's claims for protection under the Refugees Convention". Use of biometrics has "already yielded results": "in one case, a fingerprint match revealed an asylum seeker was known by several different names in another country, and had numerous criminal convictions".
There's more subtlety and more bite in Blackstone's Guide to The Identity Cards Act 2006 (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 2006) by John Wadham, Caoifhionn Gallagher & Nichole Chrolavicius, which I'm reading at the moment after returning from the law conference in Brisbane.