EU proposes biometric border clampdown

13 Feb 2008

The EU is to consider introducing automated border-crossing facilities within the EU for EU citizens and the electronic recording of entry and exit dates of third-country nationals in and out of the Schengen area.

As Ireland is not part of the Schengen Agreement, Irish citizens could have their entry and exit into other European countries automatically recorded if the proposals were implemented. The Schengen area covers 25 EU countries, as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. It is not clear if Ireland and the UK, also outside the Schengen area, would be exempt from the requirements.

The new proposals to beef up European security using technology were presented by the European Commission today,

The Commission said further development of the integrated Border Management Strategy of the EU was necessary, taking into consideration the possibilities that new technology offers.

“Making use of new technologies in an extensive, consistent and proportionate way and identifying synergies among systems to most effectively apply these technologies is the key element for an effective, integrated Border Management Strategy in the medium-term,” the Commission said. “A step-by-step approach is needed, implementing what has already been planned and decided, while developing a long-term strategy that builds upon existing initiatives.”

There were 880 million EU27 external border crossings in 2005 and 878 million in 2006, according to data from EU countries. Member states do not record such movements in a coherent manner, so the rates are based on estimations or samples, according to the Commission. It is not known how many of the border crossings were made by third-country nationals (non-EU and non-Schengen area nationals).

The new proposals include the creation of a system to register the entry/exit of third-country nationals. Under the proposals, all third-country nationals requiring visas will have to provide their biometric data for the Visa Information System (VIS) when applying for a visa at an EU member state’s consular post, and border crossing points will be equipped with the necessary equipment to allow for the verification of the identity of the visa holder on the basis of that data.

In order to take full advantage of these investments and minimise the impact on border checks, it would be reasonable to await the complete and successful rollout of the VIS, said the Commission, and it speculated that an EU entry/exit system for all third-country nationals admitted for a short stay could become operational by 2015.

To facilitate ease of movement for bona fide travellers, the introduction of an automated border control system which can automatically verify travellers’ identities without the intervention of border guards has been recommended. The Commission recommended the use of a machine that reads biometric data contained in travel documents or stored in a system or database and compares them against the biometrics of the traveller, accelerating border checks by creating automated separate lanes and replacing the traditional control booths.

The Commission observed that for EU citizens, automated gates at the external borders can be introduced under the current legal framework and should be encouraged. Access to automated gates can be given to those holding a biometric passport or, as an interim measure, a specific smart card issued upon individual application under national schemes.

The Commission also intends to launch a study to analyse the implementation of a system that would see third-country nationals using an electronic authorisation to travel in lieu of a visa.

The Commission also revealed it was setting out to examine the possibility of creating a European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR), the main purpose of which would be to prevent unauthorised border crossings, reducing the number of illegal immigrants losing their lives at sea and increasing the internal security of the EU by contributing to the prevention of cross-border crime.

A new communication from the Commission presented today also examines the parameters within which a EUROSUR, focusing initially on the southern and eastern external borders of the EU, could be developed and suggests a roadmap to member states for gradually developing such a “system of systems” over the coming years.

By Niall Byrne