Sunday, May 16, 2010

Prospective Immigrants Presumed Guilty until proven innocent

Presumption of innocence - being considered innocent unless proven guilty - is a legal right recognized by most modern societies, a fact those of us living in the west take for granted. Not so when it comes to presumption innocence of immigrants.

One can say that in a perverse kind of way, prospective terrorists and fundamentalists are wreaking havoc in the lives of global citizen, guest workers, temporary workers and immigrants. Just a couple of facts from recent times:

* Path to citizenship and legal permanent residence is get more arduous as those applying for naturalization and permanent residence in western countries including the US, Canada, UK, Europe and elsewhere – are increasingly being “presumed guilty” unless they and the respective security agencies – FBI, CIA, RCMP, Scotland Yard et al - can prove otherwise. Implication of this is clear: tighter and more rigorous scrutiny and background checks, leading to backlog and waiting time for majority of (innocent) applicants while authorities try to scan for ‘prospective’ black sheep.

* Additional fingerprinting, bio-metric checks, secondary inspections and other scrutiny while crossing international borders. In the mid-nineties, when I began my career as a global tech-worker, my colleagues and I could pack our bags, get a confirmed booking, land in host countries and walk through immigration with cursory checks, as long as we had a valid visa and passport. I guess those were innocent times. Now, the frisking and scrutiny begins at the point of departure. Airports resemble fortresses with menacing armed guards, and even airlines’ security consider us a threat unless they are satisfied we are not. Nobody, not even public persona are spared the ordeal of (excessive?) scrutiny and checks. Remember how Indians were incensed when their beloved VIP’s former President Abdul Kalam and Shahrukh Khan were subject to search and scrutiny during international travel a few months ago? Frequent glob-totting executives, including self, realize that the few strories reported in the media are just tip of the iceberg!

The technologist in me sometimes muses on how newer, maturing technologies including e-passports, national biometric ID cards, interlinking national and international security databases are just a few examples of technologies that could make life simpler for prospective immigrants, guest workers and travelers. However, as with adoption of most new technologies in public realm, broad political support is necessary. Some in the west, fearing additional intrusion of Orwellian Big-Brother are opposing wider adoption of tools and modern technologies that could perhaps mitigate the annoyance innocent immigrants and global travelers face.

One can almost be certain that recent incidents in the west, including Jihad Jane, the saga of Naturalized Terror suspect etc will only make life a bit harder for global citizen.

How one wishes one could move back to more innocent times?!