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US fingerprints more travellers

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US fingerprints more travellers

Visitors to the US who are not required to have a visa will be fingerprinted and photographed from Thursday.

It applies to 27 nations which have so far escaped the new security controls - including several European nations, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Immigration officials will take a digital photo of each visitor and inkless prints of both index fingers.

The US says longer queues are a small price to pay for greater safety but civil liberties groups oppose the move.

The new rules will apply to about 13 million people who enter the US each year under the visa waiver programme.

The data will be cross-referenced against "no-fly" lists held by anti-terrorist and law enforcement agencies.

The tightened controls are a response to the 11 September 2001 attacks when hijackers crashed four aeroplanes, killing nearly 3,000 people.

Travel agents have warned of massive queues for those arriving at US airports, but the US Department of Homeland security says the checks will add less than a minute to waiting times.

Biometric passports

The new measures have been in place for other nations since January.

The authorities say that since then, they have caught 280 suspected criminals and people travelling with false documents.

The screenings are in place at 115 major airports and 14 seaports. By the end of next year, all US border crossings will be carrying out the new checks.

From October next year, all new passports issued in the 27 countries on the visa waiver programme must have a biometric passport, which will contain a bar code and a digital photo.

Human rights group Privacy International says the new measures damage people's privacy and civil rights.

"The technology being used is demonstrably unsafe and can only result in security being compromised rather than being improved," said the group's director, Simon Davies.

"This programme is a slap in the face for those countries that have regarded the United States as a friend and ally."

Travellers would have no rights under US law "when falsely accused and deported", he added.

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