European Parliament approves new electronic border checks

2 Nov 2017

Schengen, Luxembourg. The Schengen Area consists of 26 European countries. Image: CIW1/Shutterstock

A new electronic system will involve the storage of biometric information from all non-EU citizens travelling in and out of the Schengen Area.

On October 25 in Strasbourg, the European Parliament approved a new electronic system that will register individuals from outside of the EU arriving in the Schengen Area, which consists of 26 of the 28 European states that have officially abolished strict border controls.

Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, said: “Today’s vote on the entry-exit system delivers concrete results in a policy area that is crucial to our citizens: their security. The Schengen Area, underpinned by the freedom of movement that it grants, is one of the European Union’s most significant achievements.”

An effort from the European Parliament to fight crime

Tajani explained that the implementation of new electronic system was part of a wider effort to combat the threat of terrorism and organised crime. “However, we must work together and adapt to more recent security challenges by monitoring our external borders much more carefully.

“The fight against terrorism has made improved cooperation between intelligence, judicial and law enforcement authorities essential in making Europeans safer, and I am glad that the European Parliament is playing its role in making this happen, thanks to today’s vote.”

The system is a central database that is connected to participating national interfaces, and it registers entry, exit and entry refusal information of third-country (countries outside of the EU) nationals crossing the external borders of the Schengen Area. Called the entry-exit system, or EES, it is an element of the Smart Borders strategy.

Details stored will include names, travel documents, fingerprints and facial images. The information gathered will be available to border, visa and national enforcement authorities, as well as Europol, to verify whether a third-country national fulfils the conditions of entry, and to help detect and investigate terror offences or other serious crimes. National asylum authorities will not have access to the data pool.

ComputerWeekly reported that the data will be retained for at least three years, or five years for overstayers. Once Brexit terms have been negotiated, this could mean British citizens would also be required to have their data stored on the EES system.

Questions around mass retention of information

Although some officials welcomed the initiative as an efficient and necessary step to combat terrorism and crime, others are against the mass retention of traveller data.

German MEP Cornelia Ernst described the move as “a shame for the European Union”. Speaking at a parliamentary debate, she called instead for a more humane asylum and immigration system.

The European Commission hopes for the scheme to be running by 2020 at the latest.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects