19th Mar 2018

US travellers set for EU biometric dragnet

  • The pilot project wants to measure 'criteria, notably accuracy, effectiveness and impact on the border crossing' (Photo: angeloangelo)

US citizens and other non-EU nationals who enter Europe will be asked to have their faces image-captured and fingerprints scanned upon arrival at a half-dozen major airports.

The biometric dragnet is part of a pilot test of the EU’s so-called ‘smart borders’ package. Passengers can refuse to give the data for now but there are plans to eventually make it obligatory.

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A draft internal EU document dated Wednesday (18 February) and seen by this website says the “proof of concept” is set to start in March and will run until September this year.

“Should traveller participation be lower than expected, there would be a high risk that the results of the tests would be biased or would not reflect reality,” notes the multi-million euro project.

Although the launch date is set in a matter of weeks, the document is still in the draft stage and so test places may change.

However, the document lists Arlanda (Sweden), Charles de Gaulle (France), Frankfurt (Germany), Lisbon (Portugal), Madrid (Spain), and Schiphol (Netherlands) as participating airports.

Frankfurt and Schiphol will ask between four to ten fingerprint sets. Madrid will ask for four and Charles de Gaulle eight.

Arlanda, Charles de Gaulle, and Madrid airports are also set to start requesting facial image-captures from disembarking passengers.

The airport in Lisbon is ticked to perform iris pattern scans but the paper notes that “iris pattern of volunteering TCNs [third country nationals] should be captured live, at the same time as the facial image.”

The biometric screening extends to road, train, and sea routes as well and includes iris pattern scans in some areas.

Iris scans are set to be asked on roads leading into border towns Udvar in Hungary and Sculeni in Romania. Drivers should also expect live face scans in Sculeni.

Other border towns will ask for fingerprints. These include roads leading into Kipoi Evrou in Greece and Vaalimaa in Finland.

At the land borders “the traveller will walk up to the border guard or be one of the first persons to be called by the border guard.”

Participating cars and buses will be pulled aside in a waiting area for the experiment.

Border guards will also be performing fingerprint scans on moving trains from Paris (Gare du Nord) and Lasi (Romania). Travellers at the Lasi station may also be asked for facial image captures.

Seaports and moving vessels in Helsinki (Finland), Port of Piraeus (Greece), Cherbourg (France), and Genova (Italy) are also set to participate.

Medium risk on data protection

The paper says there is a “medium” risk that participating member states won’t comply with data protection rules.

It notes biometric data will need to be depersonalised, saved locally, and then deleted after analysis. Retention periods should be limited to “produce the relevant statistics and analysis.”

eu-LISA, a EU agency tasked to manage large-scale information systems used by border guards and law enforcement, is running the pilot.

It will issue the European commission a mid-term report by 15 July with a final report expected in November.

Smart borders

The commission proposed the package in 2013 but later withdrew it and is set to announce a revised version once the pilot is completed.

The package includes the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the Registered Travellers Programme (RTP).

Both rely on the collection, storage, and processing of biometric data to enhance border control checks on any non-EU national entering the EU.

EES is meant to identify and prevent people from overstaying their visas.

Visa and non-visa holders can also get a special token under the RTP system before travelling. RTP is intended to make it easier for people like business travelers to enter and leave border gates with ease.

Any legislation would have to be approved by member states and MEPs, with some deputies strongly opposed to the idea of biometric checks and law enforcement access.

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