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The US will increase the amount of information it holds on foreign visitors when it takes all 10 fingerprints from air travellers rather than the usual two.

Currently foreign travellers must have their index fingers scanned into a database when they enter the US by agents of the Department of Homeland Security. Those prints can then be checked against a database of fingerprints held by police forces or the FBI.

That number will increase to all 10 fingerprints on a trial at 10 US airports. It is planned that the programme will be in place in all airports in around a year, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph.

US authorities claim the current scan of two fingers takes around 15 seconds and that the new process will not take significantly longer than that. Tourism bodies in the US have expressed concern that such measures are harming the tourist trade, however.

"We applaud the US Senate for striving to fix a flawed travel system," Stevan Porter, chairman of the Discover America Partnership, told the Telegraph. The Discover America Partnership is a representative body for tourism bodies.

"The policies implemented over the past five years appear to have strengthened our security. Lost, however, were efficiencies and a semblance of customer service," Porter said.

There are already concerns in Europe about the amount and importance of data held by US authorities on European air passengers. The US has a less stringent privacy regime than Europe.

Airlines are currently forced to hand over 34 pieces of information about every passenger that travels to the US. Called Passenger Name Records, the information is transferred in line with a deal signed by the European Commission and US authorities.

The European Parliament has opposed the deal, though, and a new agreement is due to be signed later this year. An earlier agreement was deemed illegal by the European Court of Justice on a technicality, but a near-identical scheme was set up in its place.

The Department of Homeland Security is said to have arrested 1,800 suspects since biometric identification was introduced, but in order to do that they collected the fingerprints of 80 million passengers.

Visitor numbers from the UK to the US have dropped since 2001's terrorist attacks in the US and the security measures put in place in their aftermath. Around 4.7 million UK citizens visited the US in 2001, a figure that fell to 4.3 million in 2005.

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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