24th Mar 2018

IT security system threatens EU rights

  • Italian police ID check asylum seekers (Photo: Alice Latta)

Efforts at the EU level to better coordinate IT systems – to fight crime, terrorism, and manage migration – drew a sharp rebuke from the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).

FRA's director, Michael O'Flaherty, told MEPs on Monday (29 May) that making the numerous databases more interoperable poses serious fundamental rights issues and could lead to discriminatory profiling.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

He also said that interoperable databases are very likely to be highly attractive for those trying to access personal data by illegal means.

"This could include organised crime groups, as well as hackers linked to foreign governments seeking to prevent political opponents from leaving those states," he said.

The EU has been working, in the aftermath of the Paris and Brussels attacks in 2015 and 2016, to figure out better ways of sharing information on security and borders among authorities in different member states.

The move is part of a broader strategy behind the EU's security union to link up all EU information systems for security, border, and migration management.

Some, like the EU's counter-terrorism coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, want facial image scans to replace fingerprints in the systems.

But the more immediate plan includes improving existing databases such as the Schengen Information System (SIS), which issues alerts on missing and wanted people, and the irregular migration database, Eurodac, among others.

The European Commission has also proposed a new EU entry-exit system to modernise external border management, and the European travel information and authorisation system (Ecris) to gather advanced information on people travelling visa-free to the EU.

Next month, the commission also plans on proposing legislation to expand the powers of eu-Lisa, the EU agency that hosts the big IT systems.

Plans are also underway to set up a so-called European search portal, a shared biometric matching service, and a common identity repository.

The European search portal is an interface that allows police and border guards to enter queries and receive responses from the various databases.

The shared biometric matching service means fingerprint data held in all information systems will be more easily available to police forces.

The common identity repository means core identity data – such as names, date of births, or genders – of people in the systems will only be stored once, to avoid duplication.

The EU commission says the plan is not to create one big database where everything is interconnected, but rather to better streamline existing databases and make them speak to each other.

But while O'Flaherty noted the advantages behind the plans, he also pointed out some risks.

He noted that making those systems interoperable will increase the chances that personal data is unlawfully shared with other countries outside the EU.

Such breaches pose serious risks to people seeking international protection, as well as to their families.

He said officials are also more likely to see information they are not entitled to, which could influence the decisions of the person concerned.

The worry is amplified if a person's personal data is incorrect. Inaccurate information entered into one system is passed onto another.

FRA has already documented numerous instances where inaccurate data has been entered into existing databases in the areas of borders, visas, and asylum.

"We asked staff at selected EU consulates how often they or their colleagues see incorrect personal data entered into one of the IT systems, half the staff we interviewed reported incidences of wrong matches or inaccurate data," O'Flaherty said.

Communication problems

The biometric data of minors is also a big issue. As children grow older, their physical development may reduce the reliability of biometric data over time.

The commission argues that the sharing of accurate and reliable information is crucial following the terrorists attacks around Europe.

"One of the major causes of these problems is that the systems are, on occasion, unable to communicate and share information between one system and another," said EU security commissioner Julian King.

King, who was speaking alongside O'Flaherty, noted that the core task behind the plan is to make all centralised EU information systems interoperable.

The information systems included would be: "the Schengen Information System, the Visa Information System, Eurodac, the proposed EU entry-exit system, the proposed Etias, and the proposed European Criminal Records and Information System for third country nationals," said King.

EU starts border checks on everyone

Border authorities will be required to verify the identities of EU nationals whenever leaving or entering the European Union.

EU ministers to discuss 'smart borders'

EU ministers in Luxembourg Thursday will discuss how to use technology and whether to set up an EU border guard corps to better secure external borders.

EU parliament groups want inquiry into terror failures

The centre-right EPP and liberal Alde want EU state intelligence and police services to explain how people known to them were still able to commit terror attacks. The two groups are proposing a special committee.

EU mulls coercion to get refugee kids' fingerprints

EU policy and law makers are ironing out final details of a legislative reform on collecting the fingerprints of asylum seekers and refugees, known as Eurodac. The latest plan includes possibly using coercion against minors, which one MEP calls "violence".


Why has central Europe turned so eurosceptic?

Faced with poorer infrastructure, dual food standards and what can seem like hectoring from western Europe it is not surprising some central and eastern European member states are rebelling.

News in Brief

  1. EU wants 'Paris' climate strategy within 13 months
  2. Workload of EU court remains high
  3. Spain's supreme court charges Catalan separatist leaders
  4. EU calls for 'permanent' exemption from US tariffs
  5. Summit backs guidelines for future EU-UK talks
  6. Macron support drops as public sector workers go on strike
  7. EU leaders condemn Turkey for illegal actions in Aegean Sea
  8. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. Nordic states discuss targeted Russia sanctions
  2. Commission sticks to its line on Barroso case
  3. Germany and France promise new Russia sanctions
  4. EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'
  5. Tariffs and Turkey will top This WEEK
  6. EU leaders roll over Brexit talks amid Trump and Russia fears
  7. Europe needs corporate tax reform - a digital tax isn't it
  8. EU data chiefs rally behind UK over Cambridge Analytica

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections