Canadians Support High-Tech Identification Tools

Canadians support high-tech identification tools

National Bureau
Fri, June 26, 2009

OTTAWA Canadians support the idea of using fingerprints and other biometric information to identify those coming to Canada or to prevent abuse of government programs, according to a public opinion poll conducted for the immigration department.

However, respondents were also more likely to agree with biometric information being collected from non-Canadians than from Canadian citizens.

The poll, conducted in January, comes as the immigration department is planning to start fingerprinting applicants for temporary resident permits in 2011. By 2013, anyone who applies for a study permit or work permit, as well as those visiting Canada from countries that require visas, will have to supply their fingerprints.

Collecting biometric information such as fingerprints, iris scans or facial recognition photographs is popular with security services which see it as an additional tool. But it raises concerns among privacy advocates who worry about how the information could be used or how it might be shared.

In a 2006 presentation to then immigration minister Monte Solberg, government officials described a trial of biometric screening technology as a sensitive issue.

But the poll reveals the issue may not be as sensitive as officials had feared.

The highest level of support, 84%, was for using biometrics to conduct criminal checks on non-Canadians seeking to enter Canada. Canadians also support biometrics being used to verify the identity of non-Canadians applying for an immigration visa, as well as being included in Canadian passports, used at the border, and to supply airlines and other countries with confirmation of identities.

The government also tested the idea of collecting biometric information from people who use government programs or who access government buildings.

The poll found that 84% of respondents agreed with using biometrics to prevent abuse of government programs, while 76% agreed with it being used to facilitate access to them. The lowest level of support, 74%, was for requiring biometric information to enter major government buildings.

While there was some concern about how the government might use biometric information, 64% believed the government would only use the information for the purpose for which it was collected.

A majority also supported sharing biometric information with countries like the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

As well, the poll revealed divisions among Canadians when it came to biometrics. Those most likely to support using the technology were also more likely to believe immigration has a negative impact. Those most likely to oppose using biometrics were immigrants and those whose parents had immigrated to Canada.

The poll, conducted between Jan. 16 and 31, is considered accurate to within 2.8%, 19 times out of 20.