After having been forced to admit that of the 27 foreign countries in the Visa Waiver scheme will be ready to issue Biometric Passports by October 2004, the US Government is now extending their controversial US-VISIT system to every country except Mexico and Canada (not just Canada, as is being reported by the media)
US Depertment of State
Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
April 2, 2004
The second announcement concerns the Visa Waiver Program and the US-VISIT Program. The Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security have asked Congress to pass legislation to extend for two years the requirement for the Visa Waiver Program countries to include biometrics in passports issued on or after October 26, 2004.
In the context of requesting this extension, the Department of Homeland Security will also begin enrolling Visa Waiver travelers through the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, which is the US-VISIT Program, at all airports and seaports by September 30th, 2004.
As you all probably know, the US-VISIT system is a fast and easy process that requires two digital index finger scans and a digital photograph from the traveler to verify his identity. We believe that an extension of the Visa Waiver Program will avoid potential disruption to international travel and, at the same time, enrollment in the US-VISIT -- in US-VISIT will help mitigate the security concerns related to extending the deadline for biometric passports.
QUESTION: Does that mean that once the two years are over, and presuming that the Visa Waiver countries meet the requirement for biometrics, that after that they won't have -- their citizens won't have to be fingerprinted when they come in?
MR. ERELI: I think that's an issue that the Department of Homeland Security will review at the time. But it's not a decision, I think, that's been made now.
QUESTION: Have you informed the 27 countries of this?
MR. ERELI: We have been briefing Visa Waiver Program governments on the request to Congress. We've been briefing them today, both through our embassies abroad and together with the Department of Homeland Security through their ambassadors in Washington, and we've also been briefing congressional staff on the initiatives over the past couple of days.
QUESTION: And I'm sure the reaction has been overwhelming joy, yeah?
MR. ERELI: Well, I think there's a recognition that, you know, that we're trying to both meet the requirements of security and facilitate travel. And, we all agree that biometric passports are desirable and necessary. There seems to be difficulty in meeting those requirements. An extension is a good idea. And at the same time, the US-VISIT Program, I think, has proven to be a pretty low-hassle way of protecting the traveler and protecting the homeland.
QUESTION: Okay. Just have you guys given any thought to any other measure you could take that could make the United States even more unpopular than it already is right now in the rest of the world? "
MR. ERELI: Teri.
QUESTION: You do --
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: You do realize that this is -- that this is going to be seen, or is being seen, as a major slap in the face to some of your closest allies?
MR. ERELI: It's not -- certainly, if that's the way it's seen, then it's certainly not intended in that light. We are asking -- we are not requiring visas. We are requesting a two-year extension. I think that is recognition that the program has a value and the program is important.
That is exactly what it looks like from here in the United Kingdom. Where exactly is our Special Relationship ? Why are we being treated like criminals ? Don't you trust us, despite the British casualties side by side with the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq ?
We might tolerate these inherently useless anti-terrorist measures if they were applied to everyone crossing the USA borders, including US citizens, Mexicans and Canadians.
At the same time, there are security needs. I think everybody recognizes those security needs, and that the US-VISIT Program is a very, very low-hassle, unintrusive way of protecting the public and protecting the United States. "
The US-VISIT system is intrusive and does cause unecessary extra delays - the nominal 15 second delay per passenger claimed when the programme was launched in January equates to an extra delay over over 1 hour 40 minutes for the last passengers to disembark from a Boeing 747 Jumbo jet airliner. The latest claim by Asa Hutchinson, the under secretary for border and transportation security, is 23 seconds which equates to an extra delay per passenger of 2 hours 33 minutes. The only way that such delays can be avoided is by making more checking staff and equipment available, which, at peak times, is clearly going to be physically impossible at the busiest airports.
Who is protecting us in the UK from terrorists using stolen or faked or genuine USA Passports, which, surprise, surprise are, very hypocritically, not going even start getting Biometric Identifiers until after the October 2004 deadline, just like all the othe Visa Waiver countries.
Border controls between countries should be the same for each others' nationals. Now that the USA is going to fingerprint and facially scan every visitor from the United Kingdom, whether they have a visa or use the Visa Waiver scheme, then it is time for the Home Office to reciprocate quid pro quo.
All USA visitors to the United Kingdom should also be fingerprinted and facially scanned. There is no need to spend lots of money doing this in a high tech way (the Home Office cannot be trusted with high technology projects). Instead we should follow, the Brasilian example, where a single Immigration official in Rio de Janeiro airport eventually copes with all the incoming USA visitors, armed with a normal commercial digital camera, and a fingerprint ink pad and roller.
We should be equally as vague as the USA government are in revealling exactly how long these Biometric Identifiers and their associated time, date, location records are kept for (it looks like forever), and which agencies they are to be shared with. In the spirit of the recent European Union Declaration on Combating Terrorism, this would mean sharing USA citizens' fingerprints and facial images etc. with all 25 countries in the European Union (after May 1st) plus a variety of EU agencies.
We shall be investigating the route for getting the World Trade Organisation to rule on what seems to us to be a non-tarriff trade barrier, since USA salepeople and merchants do not face the same fingerprinting and facial scanning requirements when entering the European Union, as do United Kingdom or other European Union salespeople and merchants when entering the USA.