UK Considering Compulsory Fingerprinting of Visitors

Two million UK visa applicants a year will be fingerprinted under secret Home Office plans to crack down on illegal immigrants, criminals

"We are already looking at developments across the board, and fingerprinting in all forms is an important part of that." But Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: "The fact of the matter is that it is easier for the government to impose these unreasonable restrictions when they can use the justification of terrorism and illegal asylum.

"It is even easier for them to justify it by starting with the most vulnerable. The government doesn't like the idea of British businessmen being fingerprinted when they want to visit America, but they appear happy to do exactly the same to foreigners coming to this country." Chakrabarti said the government was now building up enormous databases without adequate justification. "We do not object to some checks, but we cannot allow this sort of thing to go on without explanation," she told Scotland on Sunday.

"Why would they want this data; who would they share it with; how long would they keep it; would it ever be destroyed?" The Home Office already collects fingerprints of all asylum-seekers arriving in Britain and checks them against a European Union system called Eurodacs, designed to identify arrivals who have already made claims in other countries.

British officials have also received comprehensive information, demonstrations and advice about incorporating new technology from the Americans' 'laser visa' system, and their face-recognition software into the UK network.

But the government complained bitterly in 2002, when the US announced that UK nationals would be among those facing stricter entry requirements, including the demand for 'machine-readable' passports carrying biometric information including fingerprints.

The issue of enhancing identity checks and government population records has proved incendiary in recent years, as Blunkett has pursued attempts to improve the authorities' knowledge of who enters Britain and who is already here.

A succession of proposals to collect more information on British citizens and visitors have run into protests from politicians and human-rights campaigners - most notably the plan for a compulsory identity card, which was eventually thrown out amid complaints that it was intrusive and too expensive.

Blunkett is pressing ahead with a voluntary trial of an ID card using biometric data including iris-scanning, and he has also successfully piloted controversial schemes, including the national DNA database.