Managing Fingerprint issues

There has been much hue and cry over government’s long-brewing proposal to fingerprint foreign workers here in the Cayman Islands.

The Observer on Sunday wrote about this issue two years ago at some length when former Immigration Department chief Franz Manderson first spoke about the idea.

Manderson talked of the need to balance the rights of individuals’ privacy and civil rights with the needs of government to improve security for everyone in the country.

This is still the approach we believe government should adopt, and it should inform the public about its plans in an open and transparent manner.

Let’s face it, fingerprinting – even biometric scanning – is not the way of the future, it is the way of the now.

Most developed, modern countries implement this technology for security reasons. The argument over whether this should be done – ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – has, frankly, long since been over.

The answer is yes.

However, as Elizabeth Sepper of the Columbia Law School notes in this week’s article on fingerprinting, police and intelligence services have often fallen down on the other end of the equation; openness and transparency when it comes to how data shared among law enforcement agencies should be used.

If the RCIPS and Immigration Department are going to share fingerprinting data there should be documented procedures set out on how, where and why this will happen.

Technically, fingerprints cannot be obtained from an individual by local police without at least the reasonable suspicion that someone has committed a crime.

There need be no such reasonable suspicion for work permit holders prior to their being fingerprinted.

So, essentially, police can get the fingerprints of work permit holders from immigration without the pre-condition of suspecting them of a crime.

Also, there is no good reason we have been able to observe for fingerprinting work permit holders only.

At the very least, fingerprints should be taken for others such as permanent residents, students and probably even Caymanians, if no such fingerprint database exists already.

Simply making this requirement for less than half the population based mainly on the country of their birth would seem to us to be – at the very least – unfair, and probably discriminatory.

Fingerprinting needs to happen, it just needs to be managed fairly, responsibly and transparently.