A central aim of the ongoing programme of strengthening the UK’s borders is to cut down on the incidence of foreign nationals committing identity fraud as a means to enter the UK and / or commit crimes whilst they are here.
The UK border authorities have stated that cutting down on foreign nationals working illegally in the UK is a priority. The collection and retention of biometric data from travellers coming to the UK – and a system for sharing information about foreign nationals with other countries – is crucial to this aim.
Identity Fraud and the UK
Over the last few years the subject of identity fraud has become a prime concern for individuals, businesses and the UK authorities. The ease with which identities can be stolen, or false identities created, has increased in the age of the internet where many transactions are carried out online with no face-to-face contact. Individuals have become more aware of the risks they personally face from identity fraud and banks now expect their customers to take an active approach in protecting themselves against it.
Identity Fraud and Immigration
Identity fraud is an element of many cross-border crimes including people and drug-trafficking and terrorism, as well as being used by those who come to the UK to work unlawfully. In addition, foreign nationals may use identity fraud to hide previous criminal convictions from the UK immigration authorities.
Collecting accurate biometric data – for example fingerprints, DNA or iris photographs – from travellers to the UK will make it more difficult for criminals to assume false identities in order to by-pass immigration checks.
Identity Cards and the UK
The subject of identity cards has been an emotive one in the UK. In a country where there has rarely been any requirement to carry or produce personal identity documents a nationwide system of identity cards has been viewed with suspicion. Many UK citizens consider identity cards to be a fundamental infringement of their civil liberties.
Less publicity has been given to the use of identity cards to monitor foreign nationals in the UK. Already many foreign nationals renewing student or marriage visas have been issued with identity cards. In early 2010 skilled migrant workers in the UK under Tier 2 of the points-based immigration system will also be issued with identity cards. Ultimately identity cards should be compulsory for all foreign nationals from countries outside of the European Economic Area who come to the UK for more than six months.
By issuing identity cards to foreign nationals the UK immigration authorities intend to make it easier to keep track of foreign nationals in the UK. The identity cards also make it more difficult for foreign nationals to change their identity once they are in the UK in order to work illegally, to commit crime or to avoid being punished for criminal activity.
Working With Other Countries to Combat Identity Fraud
The UK works with other countries to share information about travellers in order to reduce international crime and identity fraud. European countries already share information about foreign nationals who have entered a European country illegally or who have claimed asylum there. The fingerprints of such individuals are stored on a database which can be searched by other countries.
The UK is also a member of the Five Country Conference – a group of countries also comprising the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – who have agreed to cooperate with each other on immigration issues. The UK, Canada and Australia recently reached an agreement providing for a central database of fingerprints to be shared between those countries and which can also be cross-checked against other national databases. The USA is due to join the scheme soon and it is anticipated that New Zealand will also join it.