Six-year-olds fingerprinted by Britain
Two months ago, the UK Borders Agency began fingerprinting foreign children over six years old, from outside the European Economic Area and resident in Britain. At the time Jacqui Smith was congratulated for her tough line on issuing identity cards to foreign residents and no one, not even parliament, noticed that the biometric requirements applied to children of six. And parliament didn't know because it was never asked to approve the policy.
Nowhere in the world are you more powerless than at a border. As a foreigner you also enjoy far fewer rights than locals. Do you think these children or their parents dare to speak up against the bureaucracy of the UK Borders Agency? In fact, no one has called the Borders Agency to account. Home Office officials I have talked to outside the agency were shocked that official government policy is now to fingerprint children.
When asked why (question 226407), the Home Office itself offers a much more solid defence: that the EU requires it. What it does not admit is that the British government is almost alone in pushing the EU to ensure that the age when fingerprinting can start is so low. Home Office officials pushed the EU to establish a standard age of six, despite opposition within other European governments. The next time you hear a government official support the EU, it is not just because it is a vehicle for "peace, prosperity and freedom", but also because it is a vehicle to push through policies that the UK government would prefer not to pursue through the legislature at home.
The Bush administration rejected the contemplation of fingerprinting children, even within the controversial US-VISIT program that fingerprints visitors to the United States. The Department of Homeland Security is prohibited from fingerprinting children under 14, though it may well consider lowering it.
The Bush administration and the UK government have both pushed bad
policies through international bodies over the last eight years. The UN was compelled by the UK and the US to adopt shared standards to monitor foreigners and travellers around the world. In turn, when the government wanted to justify ID cards, it pointed to the international obligations to adopt biometric passports. When it collects information about British citizens' travel habits, it will use "international standards" as a justification.
The bitter irony is that when the Bush administration tried to do exactly what these international standards propose – through collecting all travel information and other data about individuals to develop a risk score that they cannot correct – there was international condemnation. When the UK government wants to push exactly the same measures, and in fact collect even more data than the US, there is absolute silence because everyone in Britain thinks the UK government is just following international obligations.
Even if the Obama administration reverses course on treating entire populations as suspected criminals, the UK government will continue to hawk bad surveillance policy. Yet some of its most invasive practices and plans will never be reviewed by parliament. Just as Britons are powerless at the border of another country, they are also powerless within their own country.
Paradoxically, the European parliament pushed back against the European governments' attempts to lower the fingerprinting age of citizens for their passports to six years old. Instead, the European parliament gained a "victory" recently by getting the standard raised to 12. So now the EU is requiring that teenagers across the EU be fingerprinted for their passports. Indeed, the UK government will now probably argue that it has to follow suit. The government has promised, however, that ID cards (which are based on passports, which are in turn based on EU "obligations") would only be issued to people aged 16 or over. Will that pledge hold? Or will the fact that foreign residents in Britain have been forced to accept it and international standards, of course, be used as an excuse to issue children with compulsory ID?