If in order to solve crime, citizens’ and visitors’ privacy must be invaded, then so be it, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan declared yesterday.
He was defending Government’s decision to bring legislation requiring all visitors, deportees and persons charged or suspected of criminal activity to give fingerprints or DNA samples, against Opposition criticism.
Speaking in the Administration of Justice bill, Ramlogan responded to statements from Port of Spain South MP Marlene McDonald that the retention of DNA and fingerprint samples would trample on the fundamental rights of citizens and scare foreign investors away.
“By this logic the US would be bankrupt by now. Because everytime you enter the United States, the first thing Uncle Sam asks of you is to put your five fingers onto the green box and they take your fingerprint,” he said. He added that he was sure that McDonald did not complain to US authorities about this requirement whenever she travelled to the US.
Ramlogan said there wasn’t a single foreign investor “in their right mind who is coming to this country to legitimately do business who would object to their being fingerprinted at the port of entry.
Ramlogan said the Government was trying to address two valid concerns of a “terrified population” “under siege” by criminals. He said the detection rate in the Police Service was unacceptably low and this could only be addressed if there was a proper fingerprint/DNA databank. “The gathering of (fingerprint/DNA) evidence from a crime scene is only as useful and as valuable as the database against which it must be matched,” he said. “There is no point in collecting fingerprint and DNA from murder scenes at which little children are murdered and you have nothing to match it to, because some people (the PNM) say we must respect the privacy and fundamental rights of citizens,” he said.
He said if to solve crime there must be a constitutional invasion of one’s privacy, then so be it. “And what is the invasion of privacy? It is not that somebody is coming into your home as a sitting Chief Justice (as was the case in Sat Sharma) and executing a search warrant on a Friday? The invasion of privacy about which the Member for Port of Spain South speaks is the prick of a finger to take a blood sample or DNA profile, or for a man to put his finger on a biometric box... And they (the PNM) wish to complain about that when in today’s newspapers, (we read that) bandits put a family in Erin out of their house and torch the entire residence, while the family watches. I am more concerned about the gross invasion of that family’s privacy. And I want us to focus on that kind of gross inhuman act that is being perpetrated on our citizens day in, day out,” Ramlogan said.
The Attorney said he failed to see what “evil” or “disadvantage” the citizens would suffer from this provision. He said in Australia, the department of immigration and border protection kept fingerprints of visitor for 80 years while in the US fingerprints were kept for 75 years.
He said the Government had introduced an amendment which would allow the minister to make exemptions to the fingerprint rule for visitors, coming on diplomatic conferences or special events such World Cup cricket.
He was however against exempting Caricom visitors. “When you find the drugs in chicken parts and carparts, it is all good and well to stand up here and talk about the police not holding anybody, but when you talk to the police, the shipment came from Jamaica...And that is why we make no apologise for saying if you want to enter our country, put yuh five fingers and give us your fingerprint”. On the issue of the bill violating the Caricom treaty, Ramlogan did not agree with this position. He said the Treaty of Chaguaramas does not operate in a manner that deprives a state of its sovereignty and its right to protect its national security interests.