The Home Office has started sharing fingerprint data with Canada and Australia for the purpose of checking deeper into the backgrounds of migrants under suspicion.
The agreement, announced on Friday, covers the reciprocal exchange of fingerprints of asylum seekers and foreign criminals in each country. The US and New Zealand, the other members of the Five Country Conference border-security group, are expected to join the project.
A Home Office spokesperson confirmed to ZDNet UK that the scheme kicked off on Friday, and that the channels for data exchange are already open. The project will help uncover migrants who have tried to hide their past from authorities, it said.
"This new agreement will help us identify and remove individuals whose identities were previously unknown but also improve public safety through better detection of lawbreakers and those coming to the UK for no good," UK Border Agency deputy chief executive Jonathan Sedgwick said in a Home Office statement.
In the first year of the agreement, each country will have access to 3,000 sets of fingerprints with partner countries, a figure that is expected to rise as the scheme progresses.
The project will use encryption and other security tools to protect all shared files, the Home Office said. As a privacy measure, it will ensure that all fingerprints remain anonymous and cannot be linked to an individual unless a match is detected. In addition, there will be no database of collected fingerprints and all prints will be destroyed once a check has been made.
Privacy concerns over biometric data collection have arisen in the past with the UK government's plan to build a database of fingerprints and other data on citizens for ID cards and passports. No2ID, which has campaigned against the ID card scheme, also criticised the agreement covering foreign criminals and asylum seekers.
"Matching fingerprints is not an exact science, and if large numbers of fingerprints are being exchanged, the numbers of false matches will be high," said Michael Parker, press officer for No2ID. "Each false match means a family or individual will be harassed, accused and have their life disrupted."