EU mulls smart biometric borders

27/10/11

The European Commission has adopted a Communication which sets out the main options for using new technologies, such as biometrics, to simplify life for foreigners frequently travelling to the EU and to better monitor third-country nationals crossing the borders.

Enabling smooth and fast border crossing for travellers, while ensuring an adequate level of security, is a challenge for many Member States. Every year more than 700 million EU citizens and third country nationals cross the EU's external borders. This number is expected to rise significantly in the future. By 2030 the number of people at European airports could increase by 80%, which will result in longer delays and queues for travellers if border checking procedures are not modernised in time.

"The Union must continue to modernise the management of its external borders and ensure that the Schengen area is better equipped to cope with future challenges", said Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs. "The 'Smart Borders' initiative would speed up border crossing for regular travellers but could also help us to better secure our external borders. We now need to make sure that the most efficient systems are in place and I am looking forward to discussing the available options with the European Parliament, the Council and the European Data Protection Supervisor".

The 'Smart Borders' initiative would consist of:
 

  • An Entry/Exit System (EES) which would record the time and place of entry and the length of authorised short stays in an electronic database, replacing the current system of stamping passports. This data would then be made available to border control and immigration authorities.
  • A Registered Travellers Programme (RTP) which would allow certain groups of frequent travellers (i.e. business travellers, family members etc.) from third countries to enter the EU, subject to appropriate pre-screening, using simplified border checks at automated gates. This would speed up border crossings for 4 to 5 million travellers per year and encourage investments in modern automated border controls (e.g. on the basis of e-passports) at major crossing points.

One of the key questions is whether or not the EES should use biometrics and which type. The Communication suggests that the system could either only record alphanumeric data (e.g. name, nationality and passport number) or also include biometric identifiers.

The inclusion of biometrics would make it easier for a system to identify undocumented persons not requiring a visa (as visa holders can be identified using the VIS). It would also provide a more precise matching of entry and exit records (e.g. in the case of persons travelling with two passports) by linking the travel history to a specific individual on the basis of a unique property shown by the biometric identifier.

On the other hand, a certain negative impact on border crossing times could occur because of requiring biometrics from all travellers not subject to the visa requirement. The best way forward would therefore be to start in a first phase with alphanumeric data only, the Communication recommends. The biometric identifiers could be activated at a later stage, based on first evaluation results both in terms of the overall impact of the system and on border management.

The development costs for such a transitional approach would be generally comparable to activating  biometrics from the start and only marginally more expensive than excluding biometrics from the start, a choice which cannot be reversed at a later stage.

As to the choice of biometric identifier, in line with the identifier used for EURODAC, the VIS, the SIS II, passports and residence permits, the most commonly used and reliable identifiers are fingerprints and (also in case a fingerprint is not available) a digital image of the face. This choice would also mean that full use could be made of already installed equipment, bringing about significant cost savings.

Eleven Member States are currently implementing national entry/exit systems, which systematically collect all entry and exit records of third-country nationals crossing their respective external borders. However these national systems are not linked to similar systems in other Member States.

Seven Member States have implemented a form of a national RTP for EU citizens. But again these systems cannot be used for third-country nationals and membership of a national RTP in one Member State will not automatically allow the traveller to benefit from facilitated border crossing in another Member State.

The implementation of these systems needs to be discussed in light of their added value, technological implications, data protection implications and costs. The Commission will discuss all these elements with the European Parliament, the Council and the European Data Protection Supervisor. It will then present legislative proposals during the course of next year.

Subscribe to our free newsletter
Follow us on Twitter
Join us on LinkedIn

Article Comments

No reviews have been submitted

Please add a comment on this article from the Add Comment below.

Please Login or Register.

Login or Register

This article appears in :-

Europe wants smart border system
Europe wants smart border system

SDW 2014 and connect:ID news

Less that two weeks to go until SDW 2014!

With now less that two weeks to go until SDW 2014, final preparations for the world's leading event for human identity and secure credential solutions are now underway.

BUT - there is still time for you to join us and network with the best in the business.

SDW 2014 full program revealed

SDW's speaker committee is delighted to announce that its conference programme is now available to view here.

With almost 50 speakers from government and industry from across the world, the cutting-edge line up is the event's best ever. View here.

French and Spanish Translation for SDW 2014

We are excited to announce that this year, for the first time, the SDW 2014 conference and website will be offered in both French and Spanish.

All conference sessions will be simultaneously interpreted into both French and Spanish. Meanwhile, lower pricing is offered to attendees from Africa, Asia and Latin America to help with attendance costs.

Share |

Sponsored Links

3M Cogent 3M Cogent is a global biometric identification solutions provider to governments, law enforcement agencies, and commercial enterprises. 3M Cogent delivers the fastest, most accurate, and most sophisticated yet reliable biometric identification solutions in the world.
Speed Identity Speed Identity is an innovative Swedish technology company supplying integrated biometric data capture solutions. The new Speed Capture G3 is the first cross-functional form factor.
id3 Technologies Id3 Technologies is a biometrics expert company providing winning awards algorithms, biometrics devices and ID systems. Established since 1990 and originally involved in electronics, id3 is a biometrics veteran developing innovative, secure and convenient solutions like match on card, multimodal enrolment, AFIS and ABIS.