The incoming head of Canada's spy agency says new rules requiring digital fingerprints and photos at foreign visa offices will be extended to every visitor from any country in the world - including close European allies such as France and Britain.
Speaking in his current position as deputy minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Richard Fadden said the use of such biometric data will be phased in over time, starting with countries considered to pose higher security risks.
The plan is to phase in the rules between 2011 and 2013 for countries whose nationals require a visa for travel, work or study in Canada. But Mr. Fadden revealed yesterday that the longer-term plan will extend the rules to citizens of the nearly 60 countries who travel to Canada relatively hassle-free through exemptions from the visa process.
Mr. Fadden did not say how biometric information will be gathered for visitors who do not require a visa. However, many countries, including Canada, have discussed the adoption of national ID cards that include biometric data.
"The intention is to capture everybody," Mr. Fadden told MPs during an appearance before the House of Commons immigration committee yesterday. "The idea is to increase our capacity to know who is in Canada at a particular point of time."
Mr. Fadden's appearance alongside Immigration Minister Jason Kenney provided his first public comments since his appointment as director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Mr. Fadden won't begin his new job until June 27, but his testimony yesterday underscored the degree to which he is already deeply immersed in national security issues as the immigration department's top bureaucrat.
The deputy minister said no date has been set on when biometrics will be required for all visitors. He also said there's no reason why countries in the European Union should be exempt.
"Part of the difficulty is there are significant program integrity and national security issues originating from people who are citizens of EU countries," said Mr. Fadden. "We don't see any program basis on which to distinguish our treatment of them as opposed to other parts of the world."
The federal government tested the photograph and fingerprint technology known as biometrics during a field trial from October, 2006, to April, 2007, in two overseas visa offices. That study concluded the technology is reliable and effective at preventing fraud.
The face scans and fingerprints help identify people who are refused a visa to come to Canada and then show up at the border as refugee claimants lacking any documentation.
The 2008 budget set aside $26-million to introduce biometrics into the visa system, describing the measure as one that matches similar practices in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. But Mr. Fadden's comments yesterday provided much more detail on the plan. He said Canada's intention is to issue about 20 to 25 contracts with private companies around the world to accept paper visa applications and record biometric data.
"We're going to phase this in and we're going to pick countries where there are more concerns, but the intent is to cover all temporary visitors," said Mr. Fadden.
The federal Privacy Commissioner said it will be asking the immigration department to submit a business plan explaining why the move to biometrics is necessary.
"We have expressed concerns about the necessity of using biometric information for the purposes of enforcing immigration and refugee laws," said Valerie Lawton, a spokesperson for the commissioner. "The use of biometrics in border security is increasing and our office will be monitoring these developments closely."