Sunday, May 07, 2006

Canadian immigration authorities begin "low key" biometrics trial

Canadian immigration authorities are starting a "low key" biometrics trial in a number of centres, including a handful of border crossings in British Columbia and Ontario.

The fact of the trial is interesting enough, but the polling and spin plan referred to in the following article is also very interesting:

Print Story - network

Biometric screening program planned

The controversial technology would be used on immigrants and refugees

Peter O'Neil

Vancouver Sun

Saturday, May 06, 2006

OTTAWA -- The Conservative government, concerned about negative media coverage and public concerns over privacy issues, is taking a "low-key" approach to its plans to launch a six-month trial later this year of controversial biometrics screening technology at key entry points for immigrants and refugees, according to internal documents.

The $3.5-million trial program will take place at two Canada-U.S. border stations in B.C., Vancouver International Airport, a refugee processing centre in Etobicoke, Ont., and visa offices in Seattle and Hong Kong.


The trial marks one of the government's first moves into the controversial use of biometrics -- the use of physical characteristics such as DNA or face, iris or fingerprint scans -- to confirm identity documents.

Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has raised questions about biometrics in the context of broader post 9/11 concerns about how the personal information of Canadians can be distributed, often without their knowledge, to governments, corporations and even U.S. security agencies through the powerful and intrusive Patriot Act.

Polls show that numerous Canadians don't trust the technology, fear who may have access to it, and view their physical characteristics as "extremely personal," said Florence Nguyen, a media spokeswoman at Stoddart's office.

"They're very concerned."

CIC officials consulted Stoddart's office on the trial program, which was first funded by the former Liberal government in 2003. Nguyen said privacy officials proposed changes to improve privacy protection, and will await results on the trial program before passing final judgment.

A March 15, 2006 slide presentation to Solberg described the trial as a "sensitive issue."

It noted that an internal poll found that more than 70 per cent of Canadians support biometrics for use in passports and at borders, but that the polling also indicates "mixed opinions" and added that "security still surpasses privacy concerns but is weakening."

The presentation, noting that media coverage of biometrics has been "negative" due to privacy concerns, argues against strongly publicizing the initiative.

"Communications strategy takes this into consideration, proposing a low-key approach and news release upon launch of the trial," states the plan, obtained by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin through the Access to Information Act.

Charette's March 15 partly-censored briefing note predicts a strong reaction from media and non-governmental organizations to the trial and says "communications strategy will include the preparation of "media lines" for Solberg and a "broad communications strategy on the field trial."

The third component of the media strategy is also whited out, although Access to Information officials at Citizenship and Immigration Canada refused to disclose in the document which specific section of the legislation was used to justify the exclusions.

There are indications CIC is following through on the plan to lay low about the trial.

CIC published a brief notice of the trial on its website last month announcing the trial, identifying Unisys Canada Inc. as the company that has won the contract to supply the biometrics technology. However, no formal news release was issued, and CIC spokeswoman Sheila Watson said the department can't explain why it issued a notice rather than a press release, and couldn't explain whether the two forms of communication have different distribution networks to the media and other organizations.



Anonymous said...

Hey, fortunately, these folks are immigrants and refugees, and likely won't find out about the biometrics until they're deeply committed to a course of action!

Way to welcome people, Canada!

Canada Immigration said...

Biometrics aims to reduce this subjectivity by using computers, but it still faces the same problems as humans: there is a chance that the identification will be wrong. It can be wrong in two ways: it can give a proportion of false positives, known as the False Match Rate (FMR), wrongly identifying someone, thus giving improper access to whatever is being protected by the biometric system; or it can give false negatives, the False Non-Match Rate (FNMR), wrongly denying access to someone who is entitled to it. These two rates are in tension.

stella said...

I agree that the trial really marks one of the government's first moves into the controversial use of biometrics.the entire biometrics system is interesting.especially the spin plan.thanks for the great article

stella said...

well if the biometrics system has such faulty points why is it not being updated to a more secure process.I believe it is necessary.