January 07, 2004

The U.S. government on Monday began fingerprinting and photographing waves of foreign visitors as part of a $380 million effort to boost nationwide security. The new program, called US-VISIT, affects most foreign nationals with nonimmigrant visas and has been employed at 115 of the nation's airports as well as 14 seaports. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the biometrics are being used to determine if a traveler is a suspected criminal or terrorist. The United Kingdom, Japan, France and Germany are among the 27 countries initially exempt from the program.

According to Reuters, South African Airways announced yesterday it would not meet U.S. demands to carry air marshals on some flights bound for the United States. (U.S. authorities last month ordered foreign airlines flying to the United States to place armed marshals onboard aircraft identified as posing a security threat or risk). Instead, the carrier said it would ground aircraft identified as a security threat.

The International Air Transport Association, a trade group for international airlines, maintained that preventing terrorists from boarding aircraft is the best way to spend security dollars. The group also stressed the need for governments to shoulder security-related costs, such as hiring sky marshals. IATA's comments came after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security directed international air carriers to place armed, government officers on designated passenger and cargo aircraft flying through U.S. airspace.

The World Health Organization on Monday confirmed that a 32-year-old man has been isolated and is being treated for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in the Chinese province of Guangdong, site of a previous SARS outbreak that began in November 2002. Health officials still are uncertain where the infection originated, but suspect it might have been a result of exposure to wild animals. "The single isolated case does not constitute grounds for issuing a SARS alert or recommending any restrictions on travel or trade," the organization said in a release.