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South Korea Extends Biometrics Scanning to all Foreigners

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All foreigners entering the country will undergo biometrics scanning starting from 2012 to combat terrorism and prevent threats to national security, said immigration officials.

According to the Korea Immigration Service on Monday, foreigners age 17 or older will undergo fingerprint and facial scanning upon entering the county starting Jan. 1. The program started scanning those from countries deemed high-risk by the KIS in September 2010, and has since expanded to include all foreigners choosing long-term stay here.

However, the program excludes minors, diplomatic officials and other foreign government officials. Registered foreigners currently in the country will also be exempt. Biometrics scanning will be conducted in 11 different languages including English, Chinese and Japanese.

The process is expected to at most double the amount of time that it takes to pass through the immigration’s check. At the immigration desk, foreigners entering the country for the first time will have both index fingers and their faces scanned as part of the Justice Ministry’s Biometric Identification System. According to the KIS, foreigners who refuse the scan may be denied entry.

The Ministry of Justice believes expanding the system will help prevent suspected terrorists and those with criminal backgrounds from entering, effectively reducing the number of crimes committed by foreigners here. However, according to KIS officials, the data collected will be analyzed against a domestic database of registered foreigners. The official added that they have yet to strike an agreement with any international criminal investigation database. The lack of a database raises concerns that the new system may only help filter out foreigners who have prior records within Korea.

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