LONDON -- A British civil liberties group Wednesday named a U.S. program to fingerprint foreign visitors as the year's most menacing project.
The so-called U.S.-VISIT program took the dubious honor at the Big Brother Awards, presented by London-based watchdog Privacy International to individuals and organizations "that have done the most to invade personal privacy in Britain."
The group said it took the unusual step of giving the award to a U.S. initiative because the "offensive and invasive" plan "has been undertaken with little or no debate or scrutiny."
Starting in September, most foreign nationals will be required to be fingerprinted and photographed before entering the United States.
The system began operating in 115 airports and 14 seaports in January for visitors traveling with visas. By Sept. 30, it will be expanded to the citizens of 27 countries who are allowed to travel to the United States without a visa.
Authorities say it will be in place at the 50 busiest land ports by the end of the year.
The Big Brother Awards -- named in honor of the ominous, all-seeing ruler in George Orwell's "1984" -- are presented annually in more than a dozen countries.
Privacy International also handed out awards to British government plans to track children through "intrusive databases and information systems" and for an "insecure and dangerous" plan to computerize National Health Service patient records.
British Gas was named worst corporate offender for claiming that data-protection laws prevented it from informing social welfare authorities that it had disconnected the gas supply to the home of an elderly couple who subsequently died. Hypothermia was found to be a contributor to the man's death.
The winners weren't expected to attend the ceremony to receive their trophies, in the shape of a golden boot stamping on a human head.
© Copyright 2004 Associated Press