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Fingerprint scanning and facial recognition for tourists - starting this week at all US airports

The Ministry of State Security chose the name of the scanner "ink-free fingerprint"

Los Angeles airport on Christmas Eve. It is estimated that every year 26 million foreigners will be required to give their fingerprints and be photographed

From next Monday, entering the USA will no longer be the same. Immediately after landing, the entrants will be asked to go through the familiar and so long line on the way to the immigration officer, and the initial check will also be as it was - passport review, entry visa check, a few short questions about the purpose of the visit and the expected places of stay. Then the clerk will point to a small glass panel at his counter and ask the person entering to place their index finger on the panel for a few seconds. Immediately afterwards, the person entering will be asked to look directly at the camera in front of him and not move for a single moment.
From this moment on, the biometric data of everyone entering the US will be entered into the largest computerized database that the US has ever established to monitor foreigners entering its territory.

The new program, known as US-VISIT, will partially go into effect on January 5, with the biometric sampling devices being placed in 115 international airports and 14 major seaports. Later in 2004, the Ministry of State Security undertook to complete the plan, to install systems to monitor the departure of foreigners from the US and to handle about 50 land crossing points between the US and Canada and Mexico, which are currently not included in the new system.

When the exit plan is also completed, everyone leaving the US will be asked to go through a self-service computerized scanning point, a kind of ATM, where they will give their fingerprint again and be registered as someone who left. This way, the system will be able to know if the incoming foreigners actually met the conditions of their visa and left the country on time.

The Ministry of State Security is careful not to use the phrase "fingerprints" in reference to the new requirement for foreigners seeking to enter the United States. The washed-up name chosen is "inkless finger screening", this is to escape as much as possible from the negative context of taking a fingerprint sample. In the public announcements and press briefings in recent weeks, it was emphasized that this is a short and clean procedure, which is not at all similar to the scene known from police films, where the suspect dips his fingers in ink while the clerk at the station presses them to the paper. "I believe that the foreign guests will find that the method we implement is harmless, easy and fast, and that it gives them the confidence that when they enter the US they are not entering with those who may pose a danger," said last week the deputy minister at the Ministry of State Security, Asa Hutchinson, in a briefing To the representatives of the foreign media in Washington.

The registration program will be cancelled

The demand for a biometric surveillance program for foreigners entering the US was placed by the US Congress as part of the lessons learned from September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks proved that the borders of the US have been breached and that there is no effective way to know the true identity of the entrant, what is the purpose of his entry and if his name appears on any list of sources may be related to terrorism. Would the new system have prevented the terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of almost 3,000 people? It is not clear. But she would surely make it difficult for them.

The biometric identification system makes the use of fake identities and fake passports more difficult, almost impossible. Beyond that, it makes it possible to know immediately, at the time of entry, what the legal status of the incoming foreigner is. For example, some of the hijackers, who had already exceeded their visa conditions when they entered the country for the purpose of carrying out the attacks, were not allowed to enter the United States. "One can only speculate whether the system would have prevented the attacks two years ago," says Hutchinson, "but the system is built in such a way that it will reduce the possibility of attacks and locate those people who try to enter the country with fake documents and those who have not respected their visa conditions in the past."

The estimated cost of the project is more than ten billion dollars, and it will be one of the largest contracts awarded by the Ministry of State Security. In the last two years, the internal security industry has become one of the most prosperous in the US. Almost all the big companies in the fields of security and the big suppliers of the Pentagon entered the field, which generated about 55 billion dollars in the last year.

The imposition of the requirement to provide fingerprints and a photograph upon entry to the US caused indignation among immigrant and foreign organizations in the US and abroad, mainly because of the negative connotations of these measures and the accompanying criminal context. Rather, the American human rights organization, ACLU, refrained from expressing its opinion on the new plan of the Ministry of State Security and said that its position will be determined according to the way the plan is implemented - the way in which it maintains the dignity of the entrants and the use that the state makes of the biometric information it requires from the entrants.

It is estimated that every year 26 million foreigners entering the US will be required to submit their fingerprints and be photographed. The new tracking method applies only to those who enter the US with entry visas and citizens of the countries that are in the "visa waiver" program are exempt from it. These are 28 countries, mainly from Europe, that the US has determined meet the conditions and do not pose a risk of terrorism, and therefore their citizens are allowed to enter the US for short visits without a visa.

For citizens of all other countries, the new plan will increase the feeling that they are not really welcome in the US and that America is very suspicious of them. But the program also carries with it a message for the residents of Muslim and Arab countries around the world, who since the terrorist attacks have gone through difficulties and often harassment from the American immigration services. The new program that will be implemented next week cancels a previous program, which was in effect for more than a year and which required citizens from a list of countries considered to be related to terrorism (all of which were Muslim or Arab), to register at the offices of the immigration service and provide fingerprints there.

The address must be provided

The registration program intensified the Arab Americans' sense of alienation towards their government. The method of registering citizens of certain countries, with the implication that they may be involved in terrorism, has been accompanied by quite a few difficult stories. While the authorities assured that this was only a formal step, and encouraged the citizens of Muslim and Arab countries to come and register of their own accord, it often turned out that the road to the registration station was one-way. When the immigration officials discovered that the registrant had exceeded the conditions of his visa, they usually acted to deport him from the US, even though he came on his own initiative to register.

About two months ago, the newspaper "Detroit News" brought the story of Yahya El-Ali, a Lebanese citizen who lived in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb with the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States. Al-Ali heard about the request to come and register and was one of the first to show up at the local immigration offices. Although he knew that he stayed in the US beyond the period specified in his entry visa, he saw the registration as a kind of attempt by him to signal that he was interested in entering into a legal procedure for extending his stay. But his voluntary registration ended with a deportation order. The officials made it clear to him that he could no longer stay on US soil because of the exception, and that at most he could get an appointment for a hearing with an immigration judge while being held in custody.

The "Arab American Institute" (AAI), one of the bodies representing the interests of the Arabs in the US, claims that 13 thousand Arabs and Muslims who responded to the call to come and register were deported from the US in the year the program was implemented, and that thousands more are still in deportation proceedings. The organization welcomed the decision to put an end to the program, which, according to him, did not lead to the arrest of a single terrorist suspect but caused grief to an entire community.

The great advantage of the new system is that it does not discriminate between countries of origin and does not establish stigmas related to religion or origin. The fingerprints will be required to be given by Israelis, Arabs, Eastern Europeans, Chinese and others, without any difference. The Ministry of State Security also states that actually handing over the fingerprints and the photo is a relief for the entrants, because the computerized test will save the need for a second interview for entrants who were previously considered to have problematic data; For example, those whose name is similar to the name of a person on the prohibited entry lists, or citizens of one country who have a connection to another country, such as many Israelis from Arab countries who suffered quite a bit in the last year when entering the US borders.

Last week, with the raising of the alert level in the USA to the "orange" level, for fear of terrorist attacks during Christmas and New Year's, more care was also taken at the entry points to the USA at the airports. Among other things, foreigners who did not have an accurate address for the period of their stay in the US were not allowed to enter the country. Airline representatives were instructed to make it clear to passengers already at the port of departure that they must provide a full address, not just the name of a hotel or the phone number of a relative, if they want to be able to pass the passport control station at the entrance to the US. This step, like the new requirement to provide fingerprints at the airport, make entering America a less pleasant experience for many foreigners. The American authorities make it clear that there is no other choice. "We want to treat everyone fairly, to be a hospitable nation," says Deputy Minister Hutchinson, "the fact that we have to focus on terrorism is an inconvenience to all of us. I don't like to take off my shoes when I go through the airport, no one likes that, but this is part of the unpleasantness we have to endure because of our security needs."

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