Since the terror attacks of 2001, the United States has emphasized the link between domestic security and foreign travelers by creating the Department of Homeland Security, which includes immigration processing and enforcement bureaus, and launching a number of initiatives, including the US-VISIT program, an automated entry-exit system that collects biographic and biometric information at ports of entry.
In the process, the United States has helped push its border inspection and security agenda and a focus on biometric solutions onto the agendas of other nations. All countries in the U.S. visa waiver program (VWP), which includes most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, were required to have biometric passports by October 2005, though that deadline was pushed back to October 2006. Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK debuted their biometric passports this year, and the United States will begin issuing biometric passports in December.
The United States and the European Union (EU) signed the landmark Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreement in 2004, which requires airlines to provide EU-origin passenger data for flights to the U.S.. In November 2005, the EU police agency Europol and Canadian authorities agreed to share a variety of data, including those related to terrorism, and immigration and customs matters.
The European Biometrics Forum, launched in 2003 by the European Commission and the Irish government, announced the formation of the International Biometric Advisory Council (IBAC) in November 2005. Among its prominent members are the deputy director of the US-VISIT program and officials from Canada and Japan.
Perhaps more than any other country, the UK has embraced the U.S. border security model. In June 2005, parliament introduced a controversial bill that would increase sharing of passenger data with overseas law enforcement counterparts and give power to immigration officials to check biometric details in visa and travel documents.
But advanced industrial countries' responses have not stopped at the border. Since the July bombings, the UK Home Secretary more than once has used his power to detain and deport terror suspects "whose presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good for reasons of national security." France also used national security as the primary reason for its decision to detain and deport legally resident foreigners involved in the riots this fall (see Issue #1).
It is possible in the coming years that other countries will put US-VISIT-type programs in place. The challenge for all governments will be balancing security with economic interests and individual rights.
For more information, please see the following articles:
• Security Checks Affect Legal Immigration
• 9/11 Commission Urges Immigration and Border Reform
• Post-Sept. 11 Security Fears, Policies Seize Spotlight
• First Phase of US-VISIT Becomes Operational