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Biometric data privacy fears raised for Canadian visa offices in China

Passport dispute between UK and China prompts biometric registration app
Biometric data privacy fears raised for Canadian visa offices in China

The security of biometric data collected from people applying in China for visas to Canada is being questioned, based on a partnership arrangement, while an app is being developed to enable people in Hong Kong to enroll their biometrics without visiting a British visa office in person.

The company Canada outsourced its visa application center in Beijing to, VFS Global, has partnered with a subsidiary of a government security agency on facility management, resulting in members of China’s Communist Party working inside the center where biometrics are collected and processed for Canadian visa applications, The Globe and Mail writes.

VFS subcontracted Beijing Shuangxiong Foreign Service Company, which is owned by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, according to the report.

For its part, VFS Global claims to protect applicant’s personal data with strict processes. The company provides visa services for 34 countries in China, including 11 Canadian visa center locations. VFS Global Chief Communications Officer Peter Brun says that Immigration department servers and biometric equipment are installed or supervised by the Canadian government, while individuals and companies involved in facility management have no access to visa application data.

A former Canadian ambassador to China says applicants should assume that there is no privacy for visa applications filed in China.

Australian cybersecurity consultant Robert Potter, who has advised the Canadian government, says that if China’s government can observe accepted and rejected applications, it can increase the chances of a Chinese agent passing through the process.

China pulls recognition of British Overseas passport

Meanwhile, the British National Overseas passport, which was previously issued to millions of Hong Kongers, is no longer recognized by the Chinese government, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Many Hong Kong residents carry multiple passports, according to the Times. To protect their personal data, a mobile app is planned for launch which would enable applicants to transmit biometric data without visiting a British visa office in person.

Relations between the UK and China have deteriorated since anti-democratic reforms were launched in Hong Kong, and the British government announced a plan to allow residents of the island to become UK residents, and eventually citizens.

This post was updated at 11:26am on February 11, 2021 to clarify the relationship between VFS and the local partner, to correct that local partner staff do not perform visa application duties, and include Mr. Brun’s assertion that they have no access to related data.

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