What is Biometric Data Sharing? An Introduction & Overview
This is a guest post by Paul Coombes, Head of Commercial (EMEA) for Argus Global
The Five Country Conference (FCC) High Value Data Sharing (HVDS) Protocol initiative was signed in 2009 to enable the exchange of biometric data between member countries – the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In 2011 the UK and Ireland agreed to share biometric data from visa applications to fight illegal immigration.
The goal of these programs is to exchange data relevant to law and immigration cases while maintaining individual privacy as much as possible. As biometric data becomes more sophisticated and is tracked by more countries, this information becomes a valuable resource with global reach.
Biometric Data Sharing Defined
The HVDS Data Sharing Protocol between the five member countries allows for the sharing of fingerprints from up to 3,000 people per country per year. This information can be used in immigration and identity cases for decisions about immigration and deportation.
A Biometric Case Management Team (BCMT) has been created to work with international counterparts in collecting and managing biometric data. The team provides data analysis and witness statements for fingerprint matching as required by immigration and law enforcement.
The UK-Ireland agreement creates what is known as a common travel area that covers the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. This agreement is less formalised than the HVDS Protocol and allows for sharing information, including fingerprint biometrics, for applicants seeking visas.
How is it Applied
Sharing, analysing, and matching biometric data can provide information for immigration cases, criminal prosecutions and tracking suspected terrorists. The information can be used identify and remove foreign national offenders.
In the case of the UK-Ireland common travel area, visa applicants from high-risk countries are targeted for extra scrutiny. In 2011 one-third of asylum claims turned down in Ireland were previously known to the UK Border Agency (UKBA), demonstrating the efficiency and cost savings that can be obtained by sharing data.
For the HVDS Protocol, biometric data can be requested by official agencies such as the UKBA, Crown Prosecution Service, and Home Office Criminal Casework. Certain criteria must be met for the request to be valid, such as evidence that the person had travelled from one of the FCC countries or had previously been arrested in one of the FCC countries.
When a biometric data-sharing request is completed and a successful match is made, the following information is obtained:
• Identity: This includes the name, data of birth, and nationality information that a person has used for their identity in the FCC country. This information can then be compared with UK records to search for discrepancies.
• Status Information: Does the individual have residency or refugee status in another country?
• Transaction Data: This information is used to establish where the individual was at a specified time, if they were residing in or in contact with another FCC country. This can include visa applications and other travel document information.
• Adverse Information: If the individual has any record of criminality or misconduct, this information is provided in the request. The BCMT verifies this information before sending it to the requester to make sure that it can be legally relied upon.
The HVDS Protocol provides explicit guidelines for how information can be shared between the member countries and how data should be treated. For instance, fingerprints obtained will be used only for the requested purpose and will not be kept on file, but will be securely destroyed.
The primary component of the UK’s biometric privacy within the Protocol is that a request for fingerprint matching remains anonymous, with no information provided unless there is a definite match. Additional data as described above is obtained or provided at the point a match is made, but otherwise the process is terminated. For more information, check out the UKBA Home Office’s privacy impact assessment for the HVDS Protocol.
As biometric data tracking becomes more widespread, the trend of creating formal data sharing programs within and between national borders is bound to continue. These programs, when implemented well, can increase efficiency, cut costs, and increase safety.
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