While foreign governments are largely understanding of the U.S. government's recently announced plans to fingerprint and photograph millions more foreign travelers, the move has...
LONDON While foreign governments are largely understanding of the U.S. government’s recently announced plans to fingerprint and photograph millions more foreign travelers, the move has dismayed some potential European visitors.
“What are they trying to do, alienate their last remaining allies? I think it’s a strange move,” said Arjan Blom, 31, who studies history at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
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In London, Louis Michael said the measure was “demeaning” and would probably stop him from visiting the United States.
“There’s a thousand and one places to go, so why not go somewhere where you’re not going to get treated like a criminal?” he said.
The measure, which will take effect by Sept. 30, affects citizens in 27 countries who have been allowed to travel within the United States without a visa for up to 90 days, according to the U.S. Homeland Security Department.
The Bush administration made the move after determining most of the so-called “visa-waiver countries” won’t meet an October deadline to have biometric passports. Such passports include fingerprint and iris identification features that make the documents virtually impossible to counterfeit.
When the United States first started fingerprinting and photographing travelers from other countries in January, some governments were annoyed. Brazil responded by imposing the same requirements on U.S. visitors.
The expansion of the measure, announced earlier this month, impacts many U.S. allies in the international campaign against terrorism. Citizens of the visa-waiver countries that will be affected are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Those governments were largely understanding of the new measure.
In the Netherlands, foreign ministry spokeswoman Martine de Haan said “It’s America’s right to do that, if they feel it’s necessary for security,” she said.
She added that the Netherlands is studying how to include biometric information in its next generation of passports, and plans to comply with whatever decision U.S. Congress makes on a deadline.
In London, officials said it had no plans to require U.S. citizens to provide fingerprints and photographs and said it would start issuing biometric passports in mid-2005. The British Foreign Office said most travelers would understand the measure was for their own safety.
Italy, another top U.S. ally, started issuing new machine-readable passports late last year in a bid to comply with the new U.S. requirements, but there are still many old passports in circulation, an Interior Ministry official said.
In downtown Rome, citizens were skeptical of the new policy.
“With this condition, I won’t feel welcome any more,” said Ernesto Pisano, a 38-year-old orthodontist who has traveled to the United States several times.
Nicola Rosati, 32, was unsure. “One more photo won’t influence my judgment, but perhaps the fingerprints could be avoided. That’s too oppressive,” she said.
There was no immediate comment from the French government, but there was a mixed reaction from people in Paris.
“Bravo, welcome to the dictatorship. Why don’t they put a bar code here,” said bartender Kerwan Borne, pointing to the back of his neck, “and stick a microchip in your arm?”
Guillaume Bronstein said he did not object, as long as the information was used only for fighting terrorism and did not affect personal liberties.
“It’s fine if it can keep people from getting killed,” he said.
The Foreign Ministry of Japan, one of America’s closest allies, said last week it understood that the measures were needed for security, but hoped it wouldn’t hamper travel between the two countries.
“The new policy may go two ways,” said a spokesman at the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB), Japan’s largest travel agency.
“There are probably people who will feel some emotional resistance, but others may feel safer because this shows that security is being taken very seriously,” he said.
Information from the Reuters news agency was included in this report.