Last month the Minister of Immigration proudly announced new Policy which set out the ability to gather and store biometric information about all non-New Zealanders.  What he did not mention is that you refuse to give that information at your peril.Biometric information currently includes

  • Head and shoulders photo
  • Fingerprints
  • Iris scan

Certain sections of the Immigration Act 2009 were activated on 20 October.  They state that people applying for visas, those under investigation for breaching visa conditions, and certain others “must allow” this information to be taken from them.  The official line is that:

The changes will protect people from identity theft and prevent the misuse of passports or visas by fraudsters and criminals. A further benefit is that the new technology will speed up visa application processing, as we are more readily able to confirm who we’re dealing with.

Which all sounds fine.  However, the requirement to provide photos, fingerprints and so on could become another barrier to entry.  For instance, if someone applying for a visa refused to give their fingerprints upon demand then their application could be declined for that reason alone.  This is irrespective of whether they had a cultural or religious reason for refusal.  See for instance the case of a US teacher who sued the State of Texas for being forced to give her prints.  Others may raise a principled objection because the use of biometrics represents another step toward the “surveillance society” in which data, once collected and stored, can be used by Government for other purposes.

More insidious is the power to force people to give biometric information if Immigration has “good cause to suspect” that someone is breaching the terms of their visa.  Again, refusal to give that information can give grounds to cancel the visa outright – even if the person has done nothing wrong.  This power also undermines the general principle that people cannot be compelled to give information which could be used to prove their guilt, also called the “rule against self-incrimination”.  Admittedly, the rule is no longer necessarily absolute, but this latest move represents another nail in its coffin.

The Minister also didn’t mention that people can be prosecuted for refusing to supply biometric information when they arrive at the airport or when they leave the country.  Someone who arrives tired after a long flight and is not keen on giving their fingerprints before they are allowed in could find themselves in much more trouble than they bargained for.

All of these provisions were set out in the Immigration Act 2009 which mostly began to operate in November last year.  However, the biometric information sections did not come into force until nearly a year later.  We suspect that Immigration will be enthusiastic about putting them into effect.