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Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
US fingerprint measures: Is this a step too far?
Men from Middle Eastern states who visit the US are likely to be fingerprinted and photographed as part of new anti-terror measures announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Everyone will be subject to the checks but officials have specified that men from Middle Eastern states are most likely to be tested.

Results will be checked against a database and anyone who has overstayed their visa or is defined as a threat could be denied entry to the US.

Mr Ashcroft says the new practices provide a "vital line of defence" following the 11 September attacks but the National Immigration Forum has likened the plans to tactics used by totalitarian regimes such as Iraq.

The American Civil Liberties Union says that Muslim and Arab communities are being isolated by the Bush administration.

Other critics say the moves are only cosmetic and will not improve American security.

Is this a step too far, in terms of civil liberties? And as an anti-terrorism measure, will it work?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

It may not be fair but then terrorism isn't exactly cricket is it? However, America does have to guard against paranoia and any kind of return to the McCarthy era. It's great to be a nation of freedom but sometime we are just too free!
Bob Dee, U.S.A.

I live in the USA, but am from Britain. I have no personal objection to tighter controls such as this, but have to question whether it will actually achieve anything? It may catch obvious INS violators, but I suspect al-Qaeda and co will just tighten up their operating procedures. At the moment the Bush regime is flailing around trying to make the American public feel more secure, and much of what is being done is vapour-ware.
Dave M, USA (from the UK)

In the modern world the romantic idea of wandering around the globe anonymously is no longer possible

Michael Binks, UK
Whilst the debate between the human rights brigade and the people whose job it is to provide national security goes on the terrorists will continue planning. I think any effort to thwart another September 11th has to be considered. Any law-abiding person should realise that in the modern world the romantic idea of wandering around the globe anonymously is no longer possible.
Michael Binks, UK

Speaking as a Citizen of the oldest democracy in the world, I feel that the US has every right to introduce whatever measures they see fit. I saw that some people thought that it went against the freedom of the USA - funny, I thought that freedom was based on freedom of speech and to be safe. I don't always agree with the American take on the world and sometimes think they need to grow up. But, ask yourself this, would you protect yourself or your family from harm. I think the answer would be yes! Just as I hope that my government protects ours.
Simon, UK

While this might help combat international terrorism, what about the home-grown variety and the other Timothy McVeighs?
Frank C, South Africa

As a foreigner who will be visiting the US within a month I would be more than happy for my fingerprints and picture to be taken. If you don't like it, don't visit. As for those that complain about the CIA and FBI. We only are made aware of failures. How many plots have they foiled in the past? You don't know. Neither do I. Hindsight is 20/20. If you can do it better: join up.
Lee, New Zealand

The Land of the Free? Liberty and Justice for all? Not any more folks. It is now the land of the scared, the land of knee-jerk reaction. This would be as effective at deterring terrorism as the proposed national identity card in the UK. I agree with previous posters that better intelligence gathering is the answer. But only if action is then taken BEFORE the terrorists come over our borders. We need to root them out, find the nest and act accordingly. What is the point of finger printing? September 11th was committed by known terrorists who entered the USA using their own names. Would finger printing them at the border have helped prevent the event. No!
David, Denmark

Sadly, as ever, the law-abiding will submit to having fingerprints, DNA samples etc taken, and a huge database of innocent people's records will be set up. Those of evil or criminal intent will find some way to evade and cheat the authorities - they always do! Look at what happened in this country with guns after Dunblane - the good guys obediently handed over their guns, whereas the gangs and drug-dealers kept theirs and kept on using them.
Linda, UK

Terrorists and their sympathisers come in all colours and nationalities and religions

Nazira, England
Several months ago, a young man from Florida flew a plane into a building. It was found that he was a Bin Laden sympathiser. This young man was an American, yet he did this. The truth is that no one knows where the next threat might come from, because terrorists and their sympathisers come in all colours and nationalities and religions. If Bin Laden is as sly as the US believe him to be, then surely he would use non-Arabs next time to take advantage of the fact that the US is distracted by the Arab threat.
Nazira, England

The States are absolutely right to introduce these measures. It is the terrorists and extremists that do not give a damn about civil liberties. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure people are as safe as possible from the threat of another atrocity. We should introduce similar measures in the UK.
Nigel, England

America is a sovereign state with a constitution which apparently allows this treatment of foreign nationals. I for one am dismayed when third parties comment upon or attempt to delimit the machinations of our government. Consequently I am not prepared to condemn the Americans for asking for what is, after all, only a fingerprint. As one of the American contributors has stated, America has defended foreign shores for several decades. Consequently, he states that we should be grateful that the Americans defend us by fingerprinting potential terrorists. However, the motivation for American foreign policy has always been self-interest. They are not defending us. Neither did they defend us in 1939!
Michael, UK

It seems a good idea that the USA are trying to protect their citizens however fingerprinting might not be the way to do it. The person may be a first time suicide bomber, security measures like this will only stop a few people, what you should also be doing is to teach the general population to be on the lookout for suspicious activity and take action if needed
Thomas Rusbridger, UK

This has nothing to do with racial profiling but everything to do with the US trying to make this world a safer place to life, where you don't have to be afraid of terrorists who will try anything to carry out their evil tasks. If you don't like it, don't go to the US
Paul Lush, England

Such systems sound acceptable in theory but they are easily abused.

Simon Collier, Japan
I live in Japan and until this year I had to carry an 'Alien Registration Card' with my fingerprints on it at all times. Failure to have it would result in detention in the police station as I once experienced. I also have Japanese friends who are stopped for not fitting into the stereotype of a 'pure blooded' Japanese. Such systems sound acceptable in theory but they are easily abused. As one of the readers below suggested it would be far better for more co-ordinated policing and intelligence. At least then the genuinely dangerous people would be targeted and the vulnerable would not face an increase of the danger of discrimination.
Simon Collier, Japan

I think that the concept of fingerprinting is a good one, but also think that its racist to target only one sector of society. Terrorists come in a variety of colours and backgrounds. If the US wants to go ahead with this, then do a proper job, and get that database accurate!
Mandy Stanton, South African living in London

I think the US government is well within their rights to impose these security checks. The only people who will oppose this system are those with something to hide. Maybe we should have tighter regulations!
Adam Hatch, England

A few months ago it was reported in the scientific press that there has never been any form of controlled investigation as to whether fingerprints are indeed unique. With DNA matching we are quoted figures like "one in 200 million" but nobody knows just how many duplicate fingerprints there might be - and whether similarities are racial. The US decision raises more questions than it answers.
Martin Ternouth, UK

Fingerprints and DNA may be virtually infallible but the people that interpret them are not

Andy Davies, UK
A real danger to freedom is the misuse of information, such as fingerprints or DNA. Not necessarily through intent but also through incompetence and panic to find the perpetrator that procedures are not followed thoroughly. There are many cases both in the US and UK where innocent people, who had their fingerprints on record due to petty crime in earlier life, have been convicted of very serious crimes because of misinterpreted fingerprint evidence. Fingerprints and DNA are extremely strong evidence and may be virtually infallible but the people and processes that interpret them are not and this can lead to the ruination of innocent people like you and me.
Andy Davies, UK

I just can't work out how fingerprinting visitors is going to make the USA any safer. People who are happy to die for their cause aren't going to worry about being fingerprinted. "Before you blow yourself up, can I just check your fingerprints against this record?" Hmm... It just seems to me to be a way of trying to convince the American people that their government are doing something to make them safer. Sorting out the shambles that are the CIA and FBI would be a far better start.
Judith, UK

Fingerprinting immigrants is simply another band-aid solution to terror prevention that ignores its true roots, which are US actions abroad. If the US really wants to be safe, it must stop military support for Israel and realise that most problems do not require a military solution.
Casey, USA

As a permanent resident here in the States, my green card not only has my photograph but also my fingerprint. I in no way feel this is an invasion of my civil liberties, so I see no reason why visitors here should feel any different. Fingerprints are also routinely kept by banks and other financial institutes to verify identity. I'm not sure it will work as an anti-terrorism measure, but may well be a deterrent to stop illegal immigrants.
Jeff Aston, USA (ex-pat)

Israel has a photo ID system and it doesn't help them at all

James, USA, Ohio

It's not been made clear how fingerprinting/photographing individuals prevents terrorism. Israel has a photo ID system, which I believe is fingerprint-based, and it doesn't seem to help them at all. Too many believe the problem is that we don't collect enough information on people, whereas collecting more information simply enlarges an already dysfunctional bureaucracy.
James, USA, Ohio

Is the US really still a desirable place to go, as a tourist or to pursue education or citizenship? Are Americans really welcome on our soils? The only thing that the US has to export is war. One does not fingerprint a guest. That is against the rules of honour.
Wendi, Canada

The US doesn't owe others anything

Mike Maddock, US
This doesn't even begin to cover it. The border with Mexico should be militarised, and all law enforcement entities should comb the US from east to west to round up and deport all illegal aliens. Visas should not be issued unless the potential visa holder can be readily apprehended if need be. The US doesn't owe illegal aliens or others anything.
Mike Maddock, US

This is a desperate measure by a desperate government trying to put tangible measures on the table for the public to believe they are actually doing something after the CIA and FBI fiasco. Don't think it will make much of a difference!
Nelson, USA

How can a measure like this possibly work against suicide attacks? If I was intending to board an aeroplane and destroy it with myself on-board I certainly wouldn't mind being photographed and fingerprinted first.
Alex, Taiwan

This could be damaging to the American tourism industry

Connor, Ireland
It would make foreign visitors who enjoy travelling to the United States feel like criminals upon entering country and this could be damaging to the American tourism industry. It's sad to see that such a country which prides itself on liberty, freedom and justice is slowly becoming more of a police state where sections of the population are feeling the wrath of a government's intelligence failure.
Connor, Ireland

Would Americans be happy to have themselves fingerprinted at European immigration facilities?
Derren, UK living in US

The procedure of applying for a visa should eliminate the need for such extreme measures as fingerprinting visitors on arrival at the US. If the officials do a proper job and security check before issuing a visa, it would be impossible for undesirables to obtain entry to the US legally. What about thousands upon thousands of illegal immigrants, and possibly terrorists, entering the US via the Mexican border with almost no effort? It is far more appropriate to suspect that terrorists will enter the US illegally than to harass bona fide visitors who wish to enter the US through international airports where security is at its peak.
Simon, South Africa

It's good to know that as a US citizen, my government is looking out for me. America: the land of the free. Unless you look different from us.
Asad, USA

They should go further and take DNA samples

Matthew, UK
I think that they should go further and take DNA samples. This should surely be something for all western countries to do. Anyone that is found not to be on the database can be expelled from the country without any arguments and costly court proceedings are prevented. Well done to the US who are again leading the way on this.
Matthew, UK

Isn't that racism? If people from the Middle East are to be fingerprinted on entry to the United States then EVERYONE should be as well.
Susannah, Australia

If the terrorists were Middle Eastern men, it's not racial profiling, it's common sense that that's who you should watch out for.
Brian O'Connell, USA

What the US don't seem to realise is that terrorists are not some kind of passive force, sitting around waiting to be trapped by new security measures. They will just make sure they set out from non-Middle Eastern countries instead, while law-abiding Arabs get held up unnecessarily.
Ed, UK

It's clear from recent revelations that both the CIA and FBI were each aware sometime before 11 September of circumstances which should have warned them of disaster, but which were in fact ignored or perhaps even actively suppressed. These organisations and other police organisations have no need of new powers. All they have to do is pay attention to the powers they already have.
Stephen Sewell, Australia

How can we go "too far"?

David, South Africa
When one sees what the terrorists have already done and are no doubt planning to do in the future how can we go "too far"? The weary and unprepared will be caught off-guard and they will be exploited. The Osamas of this world are just waiting for a crack to appear and they will slip through - to our cost.
David, South Africa

I guess it's great if you want to track people coming in and out of your country, but it's not going to stop any kind of planned attack. Add to this the weakness that they have publicly said they're going to test Middle Eastern males and the system can easily be circumvented - just send an al-Qaeda fanatic from the Philippines. Fingerprint all or none, otherwise you are creating holes in the security that can be exploited.
Ed Vista, UK

The likes of Richard Reid would get through such security

Yahya, London, UK
This is another example of how the US is going down the security path of a Third World dictatorship. Western civilisation is supposed to be based on freedom, liberty and fraternity. If the US starts letting go of these fundamental principals then what is the difference between the US and the despotic rulers in the Middle East? Besides, why do racial profiling when the likes of Richard Reid and John Lindh would get through such security unchecked? It's time the US stopped trying to become Big Brother in the name of security!
Yahya, London, UK

It is totally appropriate to fingerprint visitors in order to verify their identity. I disagree that we should focus solely on Middle Eastern men; rather it should be applied across the board to everyone. To become a US citizen I was fingerprinted many times - I do not see this as a violation of my civil liberties (I have no intention of breaking the law). I see it as a matter of national security.
Rachel Fossoy, USA

Mr Ashcroft continues the assault on our constitution. Does he really believe that terrorists will bother to register and be fingerprinted? If we lose our civil liberties, it means that the terrorists have won. The sad thing is that most Americans don't seem to notice.
Richard, US

Foreign citizens are subject to the laws of the nation they enter and there should be no further discussion on the matter. This is an issue for Americans and not foreign nationals to debate.
Justin, USA

Being the only superpower, Americans can introduce any law which suits them best. But will it agree if its citizens are also asked to do the same when they visit those Muslim countries in question?
Ashraf Shaheen, UK

You should be glad to be checked out

Robert Carr, US
We have given our servicemen and money to have a peaceful world for the past 60-plus years. Some nations and people do not appeciate our efforts. So if you want to visit us you should be glad to be checked out as it's for your well-being as well as ours.
Robert Carr, US

I'm becoming more embarrassed to call myself an American every day I hear of another of these 'security measures' announced by Bush and Ashcroft. It's the land of the free and the home of the brave only as long as you're a white Christian.
Tom, Michigan

Keep in mind that for years foreigners who came to work in the US were required to submit fingerprints when applying for the so-called green card. No-one objected. This proposal merely extends this requirement to some temporary visitors as well.
Alex C, US

America has the legal right to introduce measures to protect her citizens from the scourge of terrorism. I'll be glad to co-operate with the American immigration authorities in the interest of security.
John, Singapore

Racial profiling won't help

Laura, US
This isn't going to help a damn thing, only alienate the US from the world and cause more hatred. Racial profiling won't help. Nor will religious profiling. There is good and bad in all cultures. I'm not sure what the answer is, but this isn't it. I thought we had a good system before but apparently those in charge don't know the total job description. As usual.
Laura, US

Racial profiling is crude but there are only so many ways to defend one's border. In the wake of 11 September I don't think anyone will complain about tighter security. It will be nothing more than an inconvenience to those who are innocent. It isn't racial profiling as it targets certain countries which are hostile. It is only good sense to check who comes in and goes out from known hostile states.
GC Jordahl, US

Stable doors and horses spring to mind, but if it stops just one person then it's worth doing. Like the oft-raised subject of national ID cards, it's only those with something to hide who could possibly object - I certainly wouldn't.
Andy, UK

I would be very interested to know what would happen to these records in the event that you are shown to be "clean". Will they then be disposed of? Somehow I doubt it. I think the temptation to keep files on everyone entering the country will prove just too much of a temptation for some overzealous politicians seeking to score points.
Daniel White, Bristol, UK

Anyone who doesn't like it doesn't have to come here

John Trout, California
It makes sense to fingerprint people from these countries given the present state of control of our borders. Anyone who doesn't like it doesn't have to come here, of course.
John Trout, Huntington Beach, CA

Key stories

European probe


See also:

05 Jun 02 | Americas
16 May 02 | Americas
05 Jun 02 | Americas
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