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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 24, 2004

[ ... ]

QUESTION: Well, on China, the Chinese Government has raised objection to the U.S.-VISIT program to have fingerprints of Chinese visitors to the States. Do you have any comments on that? Could there be any change in policy?

MR. ERELI: I would note a couple of things on that score. Electronic fingerprinting of applicants for United States visas is a worldwide requirement. It is not targeted against any one country. It is a means for verifying identity and there are provisions for the protection of privacy in this process.

It is an integral part of processing at more than 100 U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. The electronic fingerprinting of applicants for visas in Beijing, for U.S. visas in Beijing, began this Monday, and that by October 26th, 2004, it will be implemented in all 211 visa-issuing posts.

So the notion that somehow this is either targeted or an invasion of privacy, I think is just not true.

QUESTION: If the Chinese Government or any other government in the world required American citizens to do the same, would you cooperate?

MR. ERELI: I think we've done so in the past, and would note that all countries have the sovereign right to determine entry requirements of foreign nationals who apply for admission to their country.

QUESTION: Speaking of that, have you -- is there anything still happening with the Brazilian situation, or has that kind of blown over now?

MR. ERELI: I've not heard any tales from travelers to Brazil, so --

QUESTION: All right. And a related issue, are you aware of a letter that Secretary Powell and Secretary Ridge sent up to the Hill yesterday having to do with biometric passport requirements for foreign countries to have biometric passport information?

MR. ERELI: Secretary Powell and Secretary Ridge --

QUESTION: So you are? All you had to do was say, "Yes."

MR. ERELI: -- sent a joint letter to Congressman Sensenbrenner, who is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. In the letter, the two Secretaries point out that they believe that none of the Visa Waiver countries -- you'll recall that there are, I believe, 26* Visa Waiver countries -- will be able to produce passports in sufficient numbers by the October 26 deadline to meet the legitimate needs of the traveling public, and that therefore Secretary Powell and Secretary Ridge believe legislation is needed to extend or waive the biometric requirement for Visa Waiver country passports for two years.

QUESTION: Hasn't it -- hadn't it already been delayed once?

MR. ERELI: I believe so.

QUESTION: Can you -- and does it say in there how many -- and does that mean two years, literally, to the day? So it would be October 26th, 2006?

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: On the biometrics, was there any thought given to insistence on standardized scanning technology so that the U.S. Ports of Entry hardware would all be able to scan those incoming --

MR. ERELI: Frankly, I'm not in a position to report on what domestic procedures have been considered or evaluated. I can speak to our embassies abroad.

QUESTION: Adam, aren't you concerned that this delay basically defeats the reason for having them for now, for the next two years? If you aren't using these scans, the entire purpose of the program is moot until the --

MR. ERELI: I think it's really more of a technical issue than anything else. It's basically sort of just getting the technology done in sufficient time. The alternative, frankly, is that we have to process an additional 5 million visitors in our embassies and consulates, which is a -- would be very difficult given present staffing levels.


[ ... ]

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