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21st Apr 2019

EU virtual border scheme based on 'creative' figures

  • The EU wants to fingerprint visiting non-EU citizens (Photo: EU's attempts)

A European Parliament civil liberties report suggests the European Commission used misleading arguments to back its billion-euro plus proposal to finger print non-Europeans on visit to the EU.

“It’s really amazing that the commission has been so creative with figures, I find it really shocking,” German Green MEP Ska Keller told this website on Monday (28 October).

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A commission impact assessment report, used by policy-makers to gauge the merits of a proposal, is said to have spun the best possible scenarios in its so-called ‘smart borders’ package.

The commission says the package, which includes the Entry/Exit System and the Registered Travellers Programme, would cost around €1.3 billion.

Building the two systems on the same technical platform could knock it down to €1.1 billion, it says.

The system, which would replace the current method of having a border guard stamp a passport, would also shave several seconds off every border crossing, potentially saving millions of man-hours, says the Brussels executive.

The figures are based on two separate studies by a global information technology firm called Unisys.

The 2010 Unisys study included a total cost estimate with a 25 percent margin of error, positive or negative.

But the commission’s assessment report published in February, based on the Unisys study, did not mention the margin of error when it cited the budget figure.

The commission told this website that it did not see the need to replicate the wording of the study.

“The commission's approach was to base its final cost assumptions on maximal values for each individual section of costs, to avoid to the best extent possible any budget overruns,” it said in an email.

It added that the precise figure would be known only when the contracts are in place to develop the systems. It noted that the Unisys study is considered an essential accompanying document to the assessment report.

Speeding up border control checks is also put forward as an argument in support of the system.

A 2008 Unisys feasibility study notes it takes about five seconds to scan four fingerprints.

All ten fingers, rather than four, are to be scanned under the smart border package.

But the commission, when speaking about saving millions of man hours on the two hand scans, is basing its analysis on the four fingerprint slap cited by the firm.

Industry estimates put a ten print scan at around 15 seconds.

“Its [European Commission] own models are absolutely flawed, it's based on four fingers and not ten, and if you use the industry best case scenario estimate on ten fingers, then the commission’s own model contradict what the commission says is going to happen,” said one of the parliament report authors at the UK-based civil rights group Statewatch.

The commission has not provided any evidence on its own to substantiate its efficiency claim, aside from the Unisys report, but intends to launch a pilot project in the near future.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), for its part, says the commission stated aims of replacing a 'slow and unreliable' system with its finger print system do not sufficiently justify the expense and intrusions into privacy.

Police want access to the future database, a proposition that the commission’s proposal does not entirely rule out.

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