Smart borders: what are they hiding from us?

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September 22, 2015 – As the feasibility of the smart borders project is evaluated and while the public consultation on the subject is still ongoing, the Commission already seems to have some precise ideas for future propositions. One problem though: neither MEPs nor civil society have been informed.

On 14 September, the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) of the European Parliament received Krum Garkov, director of EU-LISA, the European agency currently leading the pilot project aiming to assess, on a technical level, the feasibility to implement a smart borders system at the EU borders. For the record, this initiative was initially proposed in February 2013 and split into two separate systems:

• An Entry/Exit System (EES) to record the date and place of entry and exit of third country nationals crossing the external border of the Union. The official goal being to fight against illegal immigration by automatically calculating the duration of stay of each person and triggering an alert when the deadline of the visa is exceeded.

• A Registered Travellers Programme (RTP) to allow third country nationals who travel frequently to the EU to enter in the territory using simplified border checks procedures.

The initiative, however, suffered much criticism from civil society and a number of MEPs criticised, among others points, the treatment and storage of many biometric data (fingerprints, facial image, iris scan) and the security purpose of the system. Finally, the Commission was forced to back off, at least in appearance: it commissioned a technical report which was released in October 2014 and, then, on the basis of this report, implemented a pilot project which should be completed by the end of this month and lead to a new report, this time scheduled for late November. All of this, plus the ongoing public consultation, should be used for the preparation of new proposals by early 2016. One problem though: the Commission seems to already have some specific ideas on the subject.

According to Agustín Díaz de Mera, rapporteur of the initiative in the European Parliament, the Commission has informally presented at a Council meeting on 26 June, a new system of fast border crossing for everyone. Such a system could jeopardise the original RTP proposal and raise some important questions regarding the processing of personal data of all persons crossing the borders of the Union.

If such a document exists, AEDH agrees with the LIBE Committee and urges the European Commission to meet its obligations of transparency and to share this document with the MEPs and the civil society.

Further information: 

European Commission’s web page on the Smart Borders initiative 

Sylvie Guillaume’s opinion (S&D MEP) 

Video of LIBE committee meeting, Septem

Compte AEDH