EU to collect biometrics of all visitors, could include post-Brexit UK citizens

October 30, 2017 - 

The European Parliament has approved a new entry/exit system (ESS) to store the biometric information of all non-EU citizens visiting in and out of the EU Schengen area, which could also include British citizens, post-Brexit, according to a report by Computer Weekly.

As part of the Smart Borders package, the electronic system will comprise of a central database storing the name, travel document, fingerprints, facial image, date and place of entry, exit and entry refusal of every third-country national – including visa-exempt travellers – coming to and from the EU Schengen area.

The data will be retained for a minimum of three years, and five years for over-stayers. The information will be accessible to border, visa and national enforcement authorities, as well as Europol, however, not national asylum authorities.

The initiative aims to reduce irregular migration of over-stayers and combat organized crime, as well as expedite processing times at border checks by replacing the manual stamping of passports.

Data stored in the system can be consulted to prevent, detect or investigate terrorist offences or other serious criminal offences.

“Much of the data collected by the system could be vital in the fight against organized crime and terrorism – it’s crucial that national police forces and Europol will now have access to the data,” Finnish MEP Jussi Halla-aho said.

However, other politicians have criticized similar systems which propose to facilitate mass data collection as greatly opposing the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and a recent court ruling.

German MEP Cornelia Ernst revealed that “a few months ago, the European Court of Justice rejected the EU passenger data agreement with Canada”.

However, since the agreement called for storing similar data to the EES for up to five years, the court ruled that holding onto said data for so long after the duration of a stay was an “interference with the fundamental right to respect for private life.”

“We are against this form of mass data retention from travellers. This will cost millions of euros and it is a shame for the European Union,” Ernst said.

French MEP Marie-Christine Vergiat said the system was initially designed to facilitate border crossing for the 50 million third-country nationals who visit the EU each year.

“However, this is now primarily a system for identifying people in irregular immigration situations and facilitating deportations,” Vergiat said. “Under the false pretense of security, Europe is multiplying repressive forces’ access to sensitive data, including in cooperation with third countries like Sudan. Europe is turning into a bunker, undermining its own values and picking scapegoats for its problems rather than fulfilling our international responsibilities.”

Tanja Fajon MEP, a negotiator for the new system, also shared concerns about the possible implications for “bona fide travellers who pose no threat to the EU”.

Fajon said these individuals should “not be seen as potential terrorists”, emphasizing the importance “to keep the balance between the purpose of this system and fundamental rights”.

Having already been informally agreed with member states, the draft law is currently being pushed by EC to get the law officially enacted “by 2020 at the latest”.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.