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Britain introduces biometric data collection in India


New Delhi : Indian applicants will now have to wait longer to obtain a visa for the United Kingdom, as Britain will start collecting fingerprints and digital photographs of all visa seekers at its application collection centres in the country from Wednesday.

While Britain already has biometric data centres in around 130 countries, it encountered a legal problem in India due to restrictions on the transmission of the data electronically.

“Under Indian legislation, there are restrictions on the transmission of data, so we had to adopt a less efficient solution… So, now when some visas were issued within a day, the new system will slow the process by four working days,” British Deputy High Commissioner Creon Butler told reporters Tuesday.

As per the new rules, once the applicants submit their applications, they will compulsorily have to scan their clean fingers, thumbs and have their digital photographs taken at all the 12 UK visa application centres in India, operated by VFS Global.

There will be no additional charges and the data collection should take only a few minutes.

But, there is a hurdle is the transmission of biometric data from the application centres. In other countries, the data is directly uploaded from the collection centres onto their main network in London.

Here, the daily collection of data will be uploaded onto pen drives. The data will be taken in security escorts by road or air to the British High Commission in Delhi, from where it will be send electronically to the London office.

According to British diplomats, the Information Technology Act 2000 restricts the levels of encrypted data that can be transmitted online.

“We wanted a higher level of encryption than allowed under the Indian law,” said a high commission official.

There also was a disagreement between British and Indian officials on the application of the India legislation over the biometric collection process.

“UK argued that the network for transmission will be a British network, therefore it does not fall under Indian law. This was not agreed to by India, which pointed out the collection and operation base would be outside the high commission premises and under Indian jurisdiction,” said a senior official, involved in the implementation of the biometric data collection project.

The British High Commission’s director, visa services, South Asia, Chris Dix said that discussions are continuing with several Indian ministries for allowing transmission of the data electronically, sometime in the future.

The US, which also collects biometric data from visa applicants, has circumvented the problem by collecting the data when the candidates come for interviews within the embassy premises.

According to Butler, the advantages of biometric data collection were “protection against identity fraud, making UK’s border safer and speeding of passenger entry”. He added that Britain will be re-introducing long-term visas from Wednesday, following the rollout of the project.

India amounts to one-fifth of all visa applicants to Britain worldwide, amounting to 450,000 applicants in 2006. The average refusal rate is 20 percent.