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US and allies lay global foundation for biometric border checks

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The UK has proposed a transatlantic arrangement for sharing biometric data about travellers as US coalition countries in the "war on terror" push for a global system to control migration.

The initiative officially lays the first brick in a concerted effort to establish a common border.

Launching the UK's borders and immigration strategy in Washington today, Home Secretary John Reid said the UK and US should "routinely share information about travellers of interest", as well as people caught with fake passports, or those trying to side-step immigration controls.

He proposed greater co-operation between coalition countries because, he said, the UK couldn't protect its borders "by operating in a bubble".

"Today we are undertaking to improve that co-operation through better exchange of immigration data and working together to tackle the reasons for migration," he said in a statement.

The UK Borders and Immigration Agency's Strategy to build stronger international alliances to manage migration, published today, proposes establishing the international legal basis to share biometric immigration data.

It said the UK would "rapidly" bring forward plans to use other technologies to pick undesirables out of queues at UK borders. It proposed "voice analysis" as one example. New technologies would be used for the "scientific and technical identification of nationality" and to "fix people's identities".

The report, endorsed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as the Home Office, described how "allied countries" were working to make their immigration systems "interoperable and compatible" so they could "systematically" share data about travellers.

The UK, US, Australia, and "some European countries" had already made steps in this direction.

"We will build on the commitment of the Four Country Conference of the UK, USA, Canada and Australia in April 2007 to develop projects that will underpin a framework for systematic exchange of data," said the report. Similar arrangements were being promoted in Europe.

The UK would also seek to share more immigration data with foreign security agencies to help prevent criminals from coming to the UK. It would explore an "international data exchange agreement" to provide the legal basis for this to happen.

Many such arrangements are already being thrashed out, with Europe pushing ahead with an arrangement to share DNA and biometric records between police forces, a common European biometric immigration database steaming ahead, and a wider agreement to allow more liberal sharing of data between European police forces.

US demands for information about European travellers have led to some tension with the EU, but as talks to find a solution progress toward a possible Passenger Name Record agreement on 30 June, the two sides are also exploring a wider initiative that might allow them to share police and immigration data.

The UK is already collecting passenger information to feed its border computers, while from tomorrow passengers travelling to Spain must supply personal details in advance of their journey.

The UK strategy noted its participation this summer in Biodev II, a proof of concept trial for a shared, external biometric border with other European states, while it has already set out its plans for "offshore border checks".

From 2008, all UK visa applicants will have to supply their biometrics and all non-EEA nationals will be obliged to carry biometric identity cards. ®

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