And Ridge's quote in the article, that "It's not two standards, one for the United States, and one for the rest of the world," is utter crap. That's exactly what it is, because it's being implemented selectively, not across the board. Visitors from Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and certain other select countries are exempt if their visit is less than 90 days.
Tell me, will this go away once the war is over? Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that it will linger on . . . I really hope that human rights groups jump all over this with both feet. Just because these people are not Americans does not mean they deserve to automatically be treated like criminals. I believe it to be an inalienable human right, not just an American right, to be innocent until proven guilty.
And before anybody fusses, no, I am not trying to tie the hands of law enforcement and make their job any harder. I do really respect and appreciate those hardworking folks and the difficult job they have. But there are appropriate boundaries, and in my opinion, this exceeds them. Furthermore, several of the LEOs I know would likely agree with me. Additionally, there are far less invasive means of gaining intelligence that do not require the fingerprint of every man, woman, and child from a given country that passes through customs.
Some of you may disagree, and that's fine. After all, I'm not the Department of Homeland Security, and I would not try to suppress your voice. This simply exceeds my level of personal acceptable rights vs. security balance. I recognize that it may not exceed yours. However, if you think it's okay for them to do this, how would you feel if the shoe were on the other foot, and you were being fingerprinted by another country's security force? There but for the grace of, and all that.
U.S. starts fingerprint program
Monday, January 5, 2004 Posted: 10:38 AM EST (1538 GMT)
Do you agree with the U.S. decision to fingerprint and photograph many overseas visitors?
Results as of 12:25 pm EST:
Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (for citizens with the unrestricted right of permanent abode in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man)
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Up to 28 million visitors to the United States now have to stop for photographs and fingerprinting under a new government program launched Monday and intended to make it harder for terrorists to enter the country.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the new US-VISIT program applies to any visitors who must have a visa to enter the United States. By October, all visitors will be required to have a machine-readable passport or some other method of biometric identification, such as fingerprints or retina scans.
"As the world community combats terrorism ... you're going to see more and more countries going to a form of biometric identification to confirm identities," Ridge said.
Citizens from more than two dozen countries, mostly in Europe, aren't required to carry a visa if their visit is less than 90 days. Visitors from those countries are exempt.
Visitors from exempt countries who are working in the United States, however, require a work visa, and therefore must leave their fingerprints and photographs with U.S. authorities.
"We want visitors from abroad to continue to come to the United States, but we also want to secure our borders," Ridge said.
Ridge acknowledged that US-VISIT -- United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology -- will only cover a small fraction of the estimated 500 million annual visitors to the United States, but he said the program was but the "first significant step in a series of steps" the government plans to take in the coming months and years.
Outside of Europe, the exempt countries include Japan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Brunei. Citizens of Canada generally do not need a visa to enter the United States.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says the goal of the US-VISIT program is to track the millions of people who come to the United States every year on business, student and tourist visas -- and to use the information as a tool against terrorists.
Critics say the broad-reaching program will cause unnecessary travel delays and may never prove to be effective.
"There's so much information in such volumes that there's a limit to what any analyst can absorb," said Larry Johnson, an aviation security consultant.
Faiz Rehman, president of the National Council of Pakistani-Americans, points to the disruption in travel.
"Without proper training, there will be long lines, there will be missed flights, there will be people who would be wrongly stopped," Rehman said.
Outside the United States, there has been a backlash as well.
In reaction to the U.S. policy, Brazil last week began fingerprinting and photographing American visitors arriving at Sao Paulo's airport. Brazil's Foreign Ministry has also requested that Brazilians be removed from the U.S. list.
Ridge said that "if the Brazilian government thinks it's in their interests (to fingerprint and photograph Americans), so be it."
"It's not two standards, one for the United States and one for the rest of the world," he said.
The U.S. program, which has a budget of $380 million, will require an estimated 24 million visitors to submit two finger scans and have a photograph taken upon entering any of 115 airports or 14 seaports.
Homeland Security spokesman Bill Strassberger said once screeners become proficient, the extra security will take only 10 to 15 seconds per person, The Associated Press reported.
Inkless fingerprints will be taken and checked instantly against a digital database for criminal backgrounds and any terrorist lists. The process will be repeated when visitors leave the United States as an extra security measure and to ensure they complied with visa limitations.
Lawmakers who included the program in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 say the program will improve security.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, is among those who believe the new measures could help prevent a repeat of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
"We want to keep the bad guys out of our country," Harman said. "We want to identify them and keep them out, and we want to find them if they're already here. And we did a bad job of that on 9/11."
Tim Edgar, a critic of the program and legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said it will not take the place of improved intelligence gathering.
"The problem with 9/11 is that we didn't know who the terrorists were," Edgar said. "We could have put them through this system and they would have gotten through without any problem."