New Zealand / Refugees And Migrants

How the Five Eyes countries share immigration data

07:15 am on 30 December 2020

New documents show how the Five Eyes countries share data on immigrants and refugees.


They also reveal the extent of co-operation between the allies on exchanging biometric and biographical information, and on border management.

In June, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) implemented what it called the Secure Real Time Platform (SRTP), a system that interfaces with systems in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia to enable sharing of identity data, including biometrics.

Those countries and New Zealand make up the Migration Five, or M5.

The SRTP sped up responses to identity questions among border agencies in the five countries.

Earlier minutes from the M5 Data Sharing Working Group (DSWG) show trials were carried out on sending biographic information to partners, to supplement the biometric data they were already sharing.

Border agencies in New Zealand sent about 14,000 fingerprints to each of its four partners in 2017, according to documents released under the Official Information Act.

The stated aims of the DSWG project was to "increase data 'reach' to a) better distinguish between "the good guys and the bad guys" b) access broader range of data where biometrics may not have been collected or [were not] available. It also aimed to increase "cooperative relationships" among the five partner countries and provide "infrastructure for future data exchange enhancements".

As well as systematic data sharing, New Zealand also exchanges biometric and biographic information on an ad hoc basis. Data on refugees and immigrants, people with criminal histories or assumed identities and deportees were shared.

Australia and New Zealand finalised arrangements for a biographic data pilot in 2017 and three months later expressed support for another trial "with the same cohort and broadening the matching algorithms used."

The M5 Biographic Querying High Level Business Requirements were finalised and baselined in 2018.

Resource constraints seem to have restricted further pilot schemes at that time, with the DSWG deciding not to pursue automated biographic information sharing, although the existing bilateral arrangements in place at the time continued.

New Zealand was developing more bilateral agreements with Australia and the USA covering the use of biometric information, it added.

Biometric work continued to evolve, with officials now looking at sharing biometric data with Japan, Indonesia and Europol.

Biographical data not automatically shared - INZ

Immigration New Zealand said in a statement the five-member consortium advanced specific migration-related initiatives by leveraging M5 partners' capability, expertise and experiences.

"This allows M5 partners to remain at the forefront of immigration and border management in the face of global migration challenges," a spokesperson said. "New Zealand hosts the permanent M5 Secretariat. The M5 queries fingerprint information to detect immigration and identity fraud or other concealed immigration history. In some instances this may include some limited criminal history information where it relates to an immigration interaction (for example deportation).

"M5 Members do not automatically share facial or biographical data like names or personal details unless they match a fingerprint. When one member asks for information from another, the receiving country destroys the fingerprint after the match request.

"They also do not share their own citizens' data.

"Immigration New Zealand (INZ) only shares biographic information in an automated response once an anonymised fingerprint search request has matched the fingerprint holdings database. New Zealand also shares with the United Kingdom biographic information and other relevant details of persons deported as a result of their criminal offending. However, this type of exchange between New Zealand and the United Kingdom is not automated. Automated data sharing is closely monitored by a specialist team within INZ."

There were no plans to expand sharing of immigration data to Interpol, but it would not comment on future plans for international data sharing.

"INZ has the ability to ask ad-hoc questions on a manual case by case basis using facial or biographical data. Information that members share can support immigration decision making, prosecution and deportation of individuals. INZ has also completed a Privacy Impact Assessment of the system in close consultation with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and is available in full on the INZ website.

"The M5 holds a range of meetings throughout the year. M5 Working Groups typically hold monthly meetings, including an annual in-person meeting. The M5 governance groups also hold regular meetings, including an annual conference."

New Zealand is the current chair of the Five Countries Ministerial, and was due to host the global ministers' meeting in July, which was cancelled due to Covid-19.

It is hoping to host a virtual meeting early next year.