Secrecy over scans 'hurting relations', says Oz opposition leader

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Canberra (Australia), Feb. 25 (ANI): Opposition parties in Australia have warned the Kevin Rudd Government that its decision to subject citizens of ten unnamed countries, possibly including Pakistan and India, to biometric scanning, could damage diplomatic relations irretrievably.

The Opposition's foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, said speculation surrounding which countries are being targetted was damaging Australia's diplomatic relations and the government should release the list.

"There has already been significant media speculation about the most likely source countries for terrorists or criminals seeking to enter Australia. The longer this speculation continues, the greater the potential for offence among some of our key diplomatic and trading partners," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Bishop, as saying.

The Rudd Government has refused to name the 10 countries it has targeted for biometric scanning despite criticisms that the secrecy surrounding the list was causing rash speculation.

It is understood the 10 countries do not comprise a terrorism hot-list and do not include two of the countries regarded as among the most likely sources of terrorist threats - Somalia and Yemen.

Aside from security issues, the list was designed to cover a range of regions and was drawn up on the basis of the availability of biometric scanning and countries where passport and identity fraud is common.

But the sensitive nature of the list and the announcement of the 69 million dollar system this week as the centrepiece of the government's counter-terrorism white paper have led to frenzied speculation about the listed countries.

Officials at embassies contacted by the Herald yesterday said they were not aware if they were on the list.

Australian Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, defended a decision not to name the countries, citing confidentiality of information about "immigration processes and national security".

"No one should assume which countries might be on or off the list," he told Parliament.

Amnesty International said the changes could lead to profiling on the basis of ethnicity.

The system will introduce biometric tests for travellers to Australia from 10 countries. Their fingerprints and faces will be matched with databases. The government is planning to draw on biometric scanning facilities at centres run by the British government, which collects biometric data from all visa applicants.

The office of the Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, said the Department of Immigration and Citizenship had been in discussion with the British Border Agency about the scans since last year. (ANI)

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