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EDITORIAL: More dialogue required on fingerprinting


EDITORIAL: More dialogue required on fingerprinting

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THE DECISION BY Government to put off the fingerprinting of travellers from April 1 suggests that it is responding to public concerns in this case. However, the deferral may have more to do with the threat of lawsuits by rights activist and attorney David Comissiong, the Barbados Labour Party and the Bar Association than any regard for the wider public.

The points outlined by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart as to why fingerprinting is considered necessary are legitimate national security issues. However, there is no good reason why these measures should be introduced without the appropriate consultation, in Parliament or via town hall meetings. Yes, the people elect politicians to govern, but good governance requires the people’s involvement.

At a time when terrorism and criminality know no boundaries, safeguarding this country and its people means security cannot be downplayed. The ease with which those who have carried out some recent atrocities have been able to move across borders tells us why countries must be ever vigilant. We know all too well given our own experience 40 years ago when a Cubana Airlines plane was blown up off the West Coast, killing all on board. Today the threat is more sinister.

But measures to protect our borders and prevent security breaches such as tampering with National Identification cards and the Barbados passport ought to have the confidence of the public who should be properly informed and provided with the facts.

We have had a situation where both politicians and senior public officers have determined that they are in no way obligated to inform the public of critical decisions impacting their welfare. Non-disclosure is often hidden behind some national security concern. Public service regulations are used also to circumvent interacting with the public. That is why it is refreshing to hear Acting Chief Immigration Officer Wayne Marshall outlining some of the reasons why the fingerprinting initiative was being deferred.

Many Barbadians travel internationally and see what happens on entering and leaving other jurisdictions. There is also the issue of not only effectiveness of fingerprinting but the efficiency with which it can be done given the complaints about the time it already takes to exit the arrival lounge at the Grantley Adams International Airport. The issue of whether it will be done at all the country’s ports of entry must be made clear as well.

Additionally, assurances are needed that the biometrics database is not only secure but is accessible by only a select few.

The best known biometric is, of course, the fingerprint, but others include facial recognition and iris scans. Immigration had also announced plans later in the year to facially scan passengers.

For many, these are far-reaching measures which require the full ventilation of the opinions of legal experts and more importantly, the public, before implementation. This is not a political issue, and hopefully it will not turn out to be an All Fools’ Day joke.