Canada to expand collection of biometrics from foreign visitors

June 4, 2015 - 

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said his government will put $312.6 million over five years towards expanding biometric screening measures to all foreign travelers entering Canada on a visa.

According to the government’s plan, all foreign nationals, except for U.S. citizens, applying for a work or study permit, as well as those applying for temporary or permanent residency in Canada will be subject to biometric screening. Travelers will be able to provide their biometrics at 180 biometric collection service points in 94 countries, and 135 service points in the U.S.

The Canadian government currently collects a digital photograph and 10 fingerprints to verify the identity of foreign nationals from 29 countries such as Afganistan, Syria and Egypt when they apply to temporarily visit, study or work in Canada.

The new regulations will apply to passengers from more than 100 countries, including China, India and Mexico, but excluding the U.S. and Western European countries. A government official said the changes will result in fingerprinting 2.9 million people.

One of the more controversial aspects of the proposed changes is that Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers would have access to biometric information for the use of law enforcement, leading to concerns about the privacy implications of collecting biometric data on foreigners.

Despite these potential risks, the Harper government has been keen on implementing biometrics, having already instituted biometric Canadian passports containing digital pictures, and having used facial recognition technology since 2009 to prevent identity fraud at borders. Also, NEXUS cards, used by frequent travelers between Canada and the U.S., use iris scans to help border security determine their identity.

Security expert John Thompson told CTV News that the latest policy is aimed at helping strengthen Canada’s borders, and that the practice has become common in many Western countries. Thompson estimated that this sort of the biometric collection would cost $200 million in startup costs, and about $20 million per year to maintain.

The screening system will be implemented jointly by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), and Shared Services Canada (SSC). It is expected to be in place by 2018 or 2019.

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About David Hamilton

David Hamilton is a technology journalist who contributes to His work has appeared in various publications including The WHIR, the National Post, TechVibes, and BetaKit. He is always interested in hearing about the latest technologies that are shaping our world.