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Snapshot of EU’s hoped-for seamless border crossings: progress but more work on privacy

Snapshot of EU’s hoped-for seamless border crossings: progress but more work on privacy

A report published last month by an EU agency for large-scale IT systems extols the progress that digitalization has made toward seamless travel. But bottlenecks remain – including biometrics enrolment — and key opportunities to streamline border checks remain in development.

The report comes from the European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice, or eu-LISA. The document describes recent and historical efforts to make legal travel into and out of the EU a series of logical and efficient processes for travelers and officials.

The eu-LISA’s report is broad if a bit shallow on some key areas like privacy – mentioned six times in the document – that underpin technology choices and legal frameworks.

Pretravel biometrics enrolment, essential to having any kind of automated, efficient entry/exit systems (delayed and now due to launch by the end of this year) “may be one of the bottlenecks that travellers will face,” according to the report. “Several research projects” are looking into self-service systems utilizing mobile devices both for those traveling and border staff.

A 2020-2022 pilot project examining visa digitization (completed by the eu-LISA and other agencies) touched on many aspects of the visa process including initial biometrics enrolment. Travelers were able to enroll initially at consulates or third-party vendors in a process deemed “maximum digitalization” that provided “major advantages for travellers.”

Assuming progress there, the report’s authors note with some enthusiasm development of digital identity and digital travel credentials. Information technology applied here could remove end-cap experiences for world travelers that replace the extreme tedium of long lines to accomplish a basic goal – proving one’s identity and need to be in a travel facility.

Work on all of these concepts has been led by the airline industry, the report acknowledges, but more work is needed to spread successes there to all other travel avenues, including traversing borders in cars and on foot.

One potential problem with inefficient border checks, according to the report, could be the relaxation of essential processes just to keep travel moving in and out of the EU. Commerce concerns could end up compromising security.

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