Friday, February 15, 2008

Watch Your Finger -- print.

Here is the latest on more mandatory biometrics. The European Commission proposed on Feb. 15, 2008 that all foreign travelers entering and exiting Europe, including American citizens, should be fingerprinted.

If it is approved by the European Parliament, the proposal would mean that this important ID information on tens of millions of citizens, will be added to databases shared by "friendly governments" around the world. (I am not sure where to get hold of the list of friendly and "Not Friendly" govts. but I'm pretty sure n Korea and Iran are on that second list).

The United States already requires foreigners be fingerprinted and photographed before they enter the US. In some European countries facial images of foreigners coming in will also be collected and stored in a Europe-wide database.

According to various sources including Canadian Press, "
European Union Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini also want to use a satellite system to keep out illegal immigrants. He says his proposals would safeguard the borders of the EU's passport-free zone, which includes 24 countries. They would also prevent people from entering illegally or overstaying their visas. Frattini's proposals, if approved by all 27 EU governments, would represent one of the largest security overhauls in the EU and could cost billions. Critics called it an attempt to create a total-surveillance "Big Brother" society, violating European privacy rights and freedoms."

What's up with the satellite system you ask? Here is what we know so far:
  • There would be a "... European border surveillance system, using high-resolution satellites and lower-flying drones to keep an eye on remote areas, such as coastlines and mountains."
  • "The system would first be applied to patrol coastal borders of southern EU members on the Mediterranean and Black seas, where each year thousands of illegal migrants attempt to reach the EU in dangerous voyages, often aboard overcrowded boats".
  • "Frattini reiterated earlier plans to set up a "Euro-corps" of border guards who could be sent at short notice to hotspots across the EU. He also called for expanding the Frontex border agency and giving it a greater role in co-ordinating EU border patrols." From CanadianPress
This, of course represents the classic trade off - privacy vs security. It has already been the topic of the latest heated debate in Congress as I write this column. Pres Bush wants domestic surveillance of telephone conversations between foreign nationals sanctioned by Congress for many years into the future and exempt telecoms from liability for privacy violations. the Democrats are largely resisting. With the Europeans, who can't do anything wrong, now ratcheting up significantly their surveillance and security paradigm, it will be interesting to see how that debate unfolds in the USA.

The Democrats and the ACLU think we are living in the pre-9-11, no Osama Bin Laden period of history and argue for civil liberties that were in place in those times. (Of course, we forget that whenever there are perceived threats to the US such as Civil war Secession, Fascism (FD Roosevelt), communism, we change our definitions of civil liberties and our privacy practices). There is no doubt that we need to be very respectful of civil liberties. there is no doubt that we can ill afford a "dirty bomb", a massive cyber-attack against critical infrastructure, or some other terribly damaging hit against the US and Americans.

YOU figger where the balance lies. It ain't easy.

Steffen Schmidt, CEO
Professor of Political Science and Public Policy


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