The idea of Barbadian authorities having a database of fingerprints for both civil and criminal reference appears to be an excellent one.
For those who seek to dwell on the negative and ignore the overwhelming positives of such an initiative, there is perhaps a need to drag them – kicking and screaming if needs be – into the real world of the 21st Century.
Government has signalled its intention to follow the international practice in numerous jurisdictions of fingerprinting visitors at point of arrival, as well as doing the same to nationals entering or leaving their homeland. Already there have been puerile comments about the fingerprinting measure negatively affecting tourism in terms of the timely processing of arrivals and departures.
There has also been impish political conjecture about a circumstance where a Barbadian national might refuse to be fingerprinted and be prohibited from entering the land of his birth. In any sphere where there is a lawful process, reasonable human beings comply with rules and regulations. That is why they produce their passports to immigration officials when travelling and not doughnuts. That is why persons of sound mind go to the licensing authority and renew their drivers licences if they want to use our roads lawfully. That is why if persons are required to pay a departure tax at the Grantley Adams International Airport, they do so if they want to depart. That is why people who require a certificate of character for an employment opportunity, actually apply for the document.
Surely for persons wanting to travel to and from the island, the knowledge that they cannot leave or enter Barbados without obeying the rules should be enough to encourage compliance. Why should fingerprinting be any different? Most of the objections – and there have been very few – seem to relate to administrative considerations. Authorities will have to look at manpower, use of technology, education and facilities to accommodate the process. Surely, in a country that boasts of more than 95 per cent literacy, this cannot be an insurmountable task.
We think, however, that naysayers should focus on the immense benefits of having a database of fingerprints that keeps getting bigger and assists in ensuring the safety of not only travellers but the wider community.
The role that fingerprinting can play in the fight against terrorism requires no debate.
In 1978 Caroll Bonnet was stabbed to death in his Omaha, USA home. Fingerprint evidence was found at the scene and collected. In 2011, after his killer’s prints came into the database for another matter the authorities were able to solve the 33-year-old case.
History has shown where fingerprinting has been used in matters of identity theft, to positively identify deceased persons whose remains might be indiscernible as a result of fire or dismemberment but whose finger ridges are still in tact. To date no two persons have ever had the same fingerprints, thus it is an excellent form of identification.
In 1924 in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation introduced a fingerprint database. Since that time they have processed more than 350 million fingerprint cards. The authorities then developed an Automated Fingerprint Identification System which computerized the card system. There is now the capacity to match prints from their database in fewer than two hours.
There have been instances in Barbados where fingerprints of criminals were left at scenes and have never been identified, simply because there was no reference point if the culprit did not come physically into the system at some stage. One can only imagine the number of law-abiding citizens who would have been saved the inconvenience of being the victims of crime if authorities had access to such a computerized database at the time.
Of course, a fingerprint database has a civil use with respect to persons applying for Government jobs, especially in high security, military and paramilitary agencies, as well as in the teaching profession where the protection of vulnerable children is paramount and such a database would be vital.
Notwithstanding that Barbados is seeking to fall in line with the established international practices, any legitimate measure employed to ensure the safety of the island and its citizens should be embraced. Any measure that has at its kernel, the desire to increase the ability of authorities to better identify those who enter and leave the country adds to operational efficiencies.
Sadly, we have a culture in Barbados where we complain about most changes or introduction of new measures, but comply readily when we confront those same systems in our travels.