Immigration: 7 Ways How the EU Is Building a “Technological Fortress” for Travelers

Immigration: 7 Ways How the EU Is Building a “Technological Fortress” for Travelers

Did immigration issues drive us to Brexit? What is the word on the streets right now?

EU Biometrics DatabaseWhile ideas and proposals on how the Schengen agreement should be updated and that the Schengen area needs rearrangement have been constantly floating in the air, the European Union keeps working to enhance security in the EU countries, and the non-EU Schengen members.

From Salvini pushing for Italy to leave, to the former Belgian PM suggesting expelling of the Visegrad countries and Macron’s proposal for rearrangement of the area, all kind of ideas have been presented by the highest officials of the Member States.

However, aside from the United Kingdom still in the process of leaving even over three years after its referendum to exit the EU, no other serious moves to withdraw or expel any country have been in sight in the last years. Contrarily, the European Union has been continuously working towards creating new means to ensure the block continues to work efficiently.

In recent years, Europe has been challenged with controlling the flux of individuals moving across its borders, legally or illegally. Yet, thanks to innovation and technology,  controls at borders are becoming more and more ingenious. The EU bodies have developed and created new programs, systems and databases, and updated the old ones in a bid to enhance security and strengthen its external borders.

By 2022, seven EU system and databases will be introduced and/or updated enabling the EU to keep track of who comes and who leaves, to know beforehand who is planning to travel to the area, and to permit entry only for those that are not a threat to security.

These systems and databases will enhance security and strengthen external border controls, enable efficient exchange of information between member states on criminal convictions in the EU and trends in irregular migration cross-border criminal activity, and much more.

Visa Information System (VIS)

The European Visa Information System, shortly known as the VIS, is a scheme that enables member countries to share visa information regarding third-country nationals in need of Schengen visa. It also helps with the processing of specific asylum applications.

The system generates, analyzes and processes data on the identity and purpose of travel of every visa applicant through a biometric matching – mostly of fingerprints. It also assists police and border guards to verify quickly the legality of a visa holder and to find irregular individuals staying in the Schengen Area with false documents or no documents at all by only using the biometric data.

Through the system, the EU tends to fight abuse, i.e. visa shopping – the practice of making further visa applications to the other EU States, upon the rejection of a first application. It also aims to detect travelers using fake identity and preventing, detecting and investigating terrorist offenses and other serious criminal offenses.

The VIS applies to all Schengen states and is operated by the EU Agency for large-scale IT systems, eu-LISA.

Schengen Information System (SIS)

Often called the backbone of information exchange for border guards and law enforcement authorities in Europe, the Schengen Information System (SIS) is the largest information sharing system for security and border management in the EU.

In the absence of internal border checks, the SIS assists the competent authorities in Europe to enhance internal security. Border guards, police and other competent national authorities can use the SIS to access alerts on missing people, criminal entities associated with crimes, people banned from entering the Schengen Area, stolen objects i.e. cars, etc.

Once the changes proposed in 2016 by the European Commission come into force, the SIS will contain additional information as palm prints, fingerprints, facial images, and DNA concerning, making it harder for criminals to move across Europe. It will also help in detecting counter-terrorism and protecting certain categories.

European Asylum Dactyloscopy Database – EURODAC

The European Asylum Dactyloscopy Database, shortly known as EURODAC, is a database that contains the fingerprints of every person that has ever sought asylum in any EU Member State or the associated countries.

As soon as an individual applies for asylum, his or her fingerprints are communicated immediately to the EURODAC. The EURODAC then inspects and compares the datasets of fingerprints determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application done in the EU.

It also allows Member States’ law enforcement authorities and Europol to compare fingerprints linked to criminal investigations with those contained in Eurodac. Rarely, the EURODAC is also used as a tool to compare fingerprints against the VIS.

ETIAS

While currently, Europe has information stored in the VIS only on travelers with a visa and on asylum seekers stored in the Eurodac, soon the block will have information on every visa-free traveler heading to the area.

Scheduled to be launched in January 2021, the European Travel Information and Authorization System will be the first scheme in Europe that obliges the traveler to apply for authorization before undertaking a trip.

The ETIAS, a system that resembles the U.S Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), requires from every visa-free traveler to apply online and get an authorization in advance, before showing up at the EU port of entry.

The application procedure, which may take about 15 minutes, asks applicants on information like their name & surname, place & date of birth, address, phone number, email, and citizenship. It also asks background information as education and work experiences, as well as

Each ETIAS application will undergo a detailed security check of each applicant to determine whether they can be allowed to enter any Schengen Zone country. The ETIAS will enable Europe to know who’s entering its borders before a traveler has even started a trip.

ECRIS-TCN

The European criminal records information system (ECRIS) is another EU security scheme. Its main purpose of which is to enable the efficient exchange of information between member states regarding criminal convictions in the EU.

In the first half of this year, the EU agreed to introduce new rules on the way information is exchanged through the ECRIS. The centralized system will soon include necessary data to identify a person and will cover information relating to third-country nationals but also dual EU/third-country nationals.

Entry/Exit System (EES)

The Entry/Exit System (EES) is one of the new schemes of the EU, which may be operational by January 2022. The system registers data on the entry and exit of the non-EU nationals into the EU Member States, registered at the external borders.

The main purpose of the establishment of such a system is again, to strengthen and protect the external borders of the Schengen Area, and to safeguard and increase the security for its citizens.

Once it becomes operational, the system will then register the following data on travelers: facial image, name & surname, date of birth, nationality, passport info, date of arrival in EU and point of entry, date of exiting the EU and point of departure.  As a result, the system will also replace passport stamps, as they will no longer be needed once the EES starts registering and storing all entry/exit data.

Frontex

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX assists the EU members and associated countries to manage external borders, harmonize border control and facilitate cooperation between border authorities in each EU country, providing technical support and expertise.

Since there are no permanent border controls between Schengen countries, the EU pays all of its attention to external border controls, thus having charged FRONTEX with this responsibility. Main ways how FRONTEX deals with border protection are:

  • Sharing with the EU members pictures of patterns and trends in irregular migration cross-border criminal activity at the external borders, including human trafficking, build through risk analysis.
  • Rapid response in case an EU member is facing extreme pressure at the external border.
  • Bringing together experts of border control who make sure new technology meets the needs of border control authorities through research.
  • Developing common training standards for border authorities, to harmonize border guard education.
  • Developing practices on the return of migrants.
  • Operating information systems that enable information exchange between border authorities.

What All These Systems Mean?

All these systems mean that soon the EU will have detailed information for every person entering and leaving the country, whether they are traveling with a Schengen Visa or an ETIAS, including:

  • The most basic information as traveler’s name & surname, date & place of birth, nationality, sex, and all contact info.
  • Every travelers’ planned date of entry and exit, as well as the purpose of their trip.
  • Facial image, fingerprints and palm scanning.
  • Information on every previous entry and exit to the EU, the date and point of entry and the date and point of departure.
  • Criminal offenses committed within the EU, overstaying, or banning.
  • Data on missing persons, and individuals forced to travel.
  • Data on lost documents and objects.

Overall, the new systems and databases will also:

  • Make it harder for criminals to move across Europe.
  • Help detect counter terrorism and protecting certain categories.
  • Facilitate criminal investigations
  • Determine on persons ineligible for entry to EU before they have even undertaken their trip.
  • Enable exchange of information between member states regarding criminal convictions in the EU.



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