Monday

20th May 2019

Border management going virtual

  • "Digital technologies are at the very core of our activities," says EU home affairs commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos (Photo: European Union)

Internal security and migration are merging under the guise of border management as the EU seeks to tighten controls on who leaves and enters the bloc.

Krum Garkov, who heads the Tallinn-based EU agency that oversees large-scale IT systems, described the merger as a fundamental shift that will also make border controls virtual.

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"Border management today is going through a very fundamental transformation," he said earlier this week at a conference organised by Forum Europe in Brussels.

His agency, known as eu-Lisa, is also set for an overhaul, with the European Commission floating a bill next week to beef up its mandate.

Eu-Lisa already manages the Schengen Information System, a border and police database. It also oversees the Visa Information System, as well as the asylum fingerprint database, Eurodac.

All three systems are seen as key in the broader effort to tackle security and get a better grip on migration.

The agency will soon have a handful of other databases under its command as it grows in prominence and importance.

Among them is the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (Etias), which will screen visa-free travellers before they enter the EU.

A separate Entry-Exit system, aimed at detecting people who over-stay their visa, is also under discussion but won't be operational until 2020. Some 14 million Schengen area visas are issued every year.

EU leaders in Brussels at the summit on Thursday (22 June) are expected to endorse both systems, with legislation also underway to make the various EU-level security databases managed by eu-Lisa interoperable.

Estonia's digital touch

The fact that the agency is based in Tallinn is not incidental given Estonia is taking the helm of the EU presidency.

"We see an important role for IT solutions in safe guarding our borders and internal security," said Andres Anvelt, Estonia's interior minister.

Anvelt said the upcoming EU presidency would also aim to expand the European Criminal Records Information System (Ecris) to include non-EU nationals.

He also wants to turn Eurodac into "a full case management system".

Last year, Eurodac processed over 1 million fingerprints of asylum seekers as young as 14.

Now the plan is to start taking fingerprints of children as young as six and to get the police in all EU states to use the database more often.

Only 327 Eurodac queries had been carried out last year by police in Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Poland.

Gilles de Kerchove, the EU's counter-terrorism coordinator, wants to replace the fingerprints with full face scans.

"It is really urgent that we start feeding and searching databases through biometric data, and by biometric data I don't mean fingerprints, but I mean facial images," he had said in May.

The plan now is to create an automated fingerprint identification system to allow police to check people against the Schengen Information System.

The EU is also setting up a European search portal, a shared biometric matching service, and a common identity repository.

But big questions remain unanswered in regard to hacking, fundamental rights and the push towards greater security at the expense of civil liberties.

Michael O'Flaherty, who heads the Fundamental Rights Agency, said the plans raise a number of serious issues on privacy rights and protection of personal data.

He also said the systems would become targets for hackers, foreign governments, and political opponents.

"It also increases the chances that such data is unlawfully shared with third countries," he said.

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