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ALBERT BRANDFORD: Fingerprinting dilemma

Albert Brandford, [email protected]

ALBERT BRANDFORD: Fingerprinting dilemma

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I am a Barbadian. I have a right to come to Barbados without any hindrance. Nobody should be bothering me and giving me any conditions for me to come into Barbados.Trade unionist and social commentator, Caswell Franklyn.

MOST BARBADIANS, I am confident, would support any initiative by Government to secure the country’s borders, particularly so now that there has been a spike globally in security awareness.

But serious concerns have been raised about the proposal to implement the Immigration (Biometrics) Regulations 2015, especially as they relate to the fingerprinting of all persons using the island’s ports of entry, including nationals and Barbadian citizens.

It is unfortunate that Government very early resorted to the refuge of “national security” apparently to avoid having to inform Barbadians of the real reasons for these new requirements, outside, of course, the always lucrative trade in Barbados’ travel documents.

Still, it is the fingerprinting proposal that has raised the ire of Franklyn, fellow activist and attorney-at-law David Comissiong and the official Opposition.

“I am a Barbadian,” Franklyn declared, describing it as “complete madness”.

Nobody should be bothering me and giving me any conditions for me to come into Barbados.

“If you put that in place for visitors, go right ahead. They want to come to Barbados and in order for them to get into Barbados they have to accept the conditions for coming here; but I have a right to come to Barbados without any hindrance whatsoever. No person should be asking me to put my fingerprint anyplace.

“Suppose I said, ‘no, that I am not offering my fingerprint’, what are you going to do to me? I am a Barbadian and you cannot put me out of Barbados.”

It is a concern echoed by former Attorney General Dale Marshall, of the Opposition, in the House of Assembly, describing the proposal as “bizarre”.

“We have never raised any objection to fingerprinting international visitors,” he noted. “Our fundamental objection has always been that the Government for some bizarre reason wants to fingerprint Barbadian citizens.

“Imagine, Madam Deputy Speaker, if one of your constituents came into Barbados and refused to give a fingerprint. What is the Immigration officer going to do? Deport him or her to where they came from? But they are Barbadians, so you can’t deport a Barbadian from Barbados.

“On the other hand, could the Immigration office charge them with an offence because they refused to give a fingerprint? Equally objectionable and idiotic.”

Barbados is a January 1973 signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which came into force March 1976.

Article 12 (4) says: No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who is also Minister of Immigration, framed the proposals in the context of protecting the Barbados passport and maintaining its rank as #1 in the Caribbean and #21 worldwide.

He regaled the House with the graphic and riveting tale of a Barbadian deportee who twice changed his name and identification documents to elude border control authorities here and in Canada.

“You can change your name as much as you like; you can’t change your fingerprints, though,” he declared, in defence of the biometrics proposals.

It’s acknowledged that biometrics is rapidly making its way into the mainstream as a means to help prevent identity theft and fraud.

According to a White Paper: “Use of biometrics is growing because our fingerprints, faces, irises, and voices have truly special properties that make them an effective barrier to fraudsters attempting to surreptitiously impersonate us.

“They are useful because unlike names, ID numbers, email addresses, and passwords, they are comparatively more unique, secret, permanent, consistent, difficult to reproduce, and – most notably – physically bound to us, which also happens to be very convenient.”

But it comes with a caveat: biometric verification does not verify the authenticity of identity data; only that the person verifying is the same who registered the data.

Fortunately, perhaps, as only time will tell, Stuart has said the Government is not “strong-headed or wrong-headed” and the matter has been put on hold pending review.

“Whatever has to be corrected, whatever has to be made right, will be made right, and made right in such a way that the fundamental rights and freedoms of Barbadians will be respected,” he told the House last week.

“The idea that the Government is obsessively and compulsively setting out to fingerprint Barbadians leaving and returning home – that is not the mindset of the Prime Minister of Barbados . . .  . ”

It is clear that Government has to find that delicate balance between national security imperatives and constitutionally mandated rights.

With the review, Government appears to be listening to the people; but is it hearing? I’m not so sure.

Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email: [email protected]