Wednesday, 14 January 2004  
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Seizing the initiative

In what amounts to a clear refutation of a misperception doing the rounds that the LTTE has its preferences with regard to whom from the Lankan State it would like to collaborate with in the peace effort, LTTE political wing chief Thamilchelvam has gone on record as saying that the decisive factor in this matter would be the people's mandate.

That is, whether it be the President or the Prime Minister, what would prove important from the LTTE's viewpoint for the carrying on of negotiations is that either of these parties is mandated by the people to carry the peace process forward.

Personalities, in other words, wouldn't matter in the furtherance of peace. The LTTE would be ready to "do business" with either of these parties, provided he or she is backed by a popular mandate to negotiate.

While this statement highlights the neutrality of the LTTE with regard to the power-tussle in the South, it also establishes the primacy the LTTE attaches to the continuation of the peace process.

It underscores this principled position with the statement that it wouldn't be the first to breach the ceasefire.

However, it would be naive on any observers part to gloss over what seems to be Tamilchelvam's veiled warning of restlessness on the part of the "people" of the North-East if the peace process remains deadlocked.

Nevertheless, what matters at the present juncture is that the LTTE is remaining committed to a negotiated settlement and is right now putting a political solution above other considerations.

If the Lankan State fails to seize the initiative, once again, it could project itself as the reluctant party in the peace effort.

Thus is the onus cast on the Lankan State to put its house in order and to reactivate the peace effort. It is best that the State reads the writing on the wall. While the President and the Government bicker over who should take charge of what, the crime rate in the country is continuing to spiral.

Twelve violent crimes over the past twelve days - this is the unsettling data from the crime scene. These bleeding statistics need to be related to the fact that confusion reigns in the sphere of governance. If nothing else, these unfazing revelations should alert the Southern polity into getting its act right.

If not high principle at least common sense and a sense of humanity should dictate to the squabbling arms of the State, the need to cohabit and govern the country in unison. We once again reiterate our position that fresh elections would only draw a blank.

The rise of biometrics

The British Embassy in Colombo caused a stir when it announced that visa applicants would be fingerprinted.

The US implements a similar system with most visitors being digitally fingerprinted and photographed at 115 points of entry. Australia is testing a face recognition system to screen airline passengers. Other countries are contemplating similar programs.

Biometrics - the use of fingerprints, iris scans, facial features and other unique individual characteristics for identification - has become the latest buzzword, with authorities looking beyond photos and signatures to verify the identity of individuals.

The US, UK and several other countries are considering the merits of including machine-readable biometric information in the passport/ID card itself, using a microchip. Such chips are also likely to contain the holder's blood group and medical history.

Proponents say it will prevent terrorists and criminals from entering their countries. They point out that biometric-enabled documents will also help the holder in an emergency as hospitals and relief workers can instantly download the required details.

Opponents see biometrics as an attack on personal freedom and a violation of privacy laws. They say that fingerprinting humiliates genuine travellers and puts them in the same league as criminals. The debate on these issues is likely to continue unabated.

In the long term, though, the world will have to live with biometrics. Increased security is essential in the light of a global terror alert. If biometrics are seen to be making a positive impact - the US says it has nabbed more than 30 criminals after the program was started - more countries will turn to the technology.

Leading Japanese and European firms are already moving towards a common standard for biometric identification.

The Biometrics Security Consortium, a group of 30 Japanese companies, and its European counterpart, the European Biometrics Forum, are discussing the establishment of a global standard in collaboration with Asian and American firms.

Sri Lanka and South Asia too should explore the possibility of implementing this technology. We cannot afford to lag behind in a global drive towards enhanced security. The authorities must still strike a balance between national security and personal liberty in this endeavour.

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