EU: France says protect free movement with mass fingerprinting, face scans and entry-exit logs

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France has proposed extending the EU's proposed "smart borders" systems from non-EU nationals to all EU nationals and residents as well, a move which would require fingerprinting, face scans, systematic database searches and entry and exit logging for everyone entering the EU.

The smart borders proposals are one of many items on the agenda of the JHA Council meeting today (8 October).

Under the Commission's 2013 smart borders proposals (which are soon to be redrafted), a new database known as the Entry/Exit System (EES) would require the fingerprinting of all non-residents entering the Schengen area, with the aim of making it easier to calculate and detect who has "overstayed" their visa entitlement. A Registered Traveller Programme (RTP), for the vetting of certain travellers before they reach EU borders, would also be introduced, along with amendments to the Schengen Borders Code. [1]

In a note sent in late September to the Council of the EU's Working Party on Frontiers, entitled 'Smart borders for all', the French delegation to the Council proposes "broadening the scope of the 'Smart Borders' package for all travellers, also including European nationals'." [2]

According to the note:

"Extending the system to all travellers would also mean that people enjoying the right of free movement would be subject to:

- systematic verification of their travel document and checks in the databases for stolen, usurped, lost and invalidated documents;

- verification of biometric data available in their travel document [fingerprint and iris scans];

- registration of their biometric data for subsequent swift verification via the "fast lane" (or any other system to speed up border crossings) or for those without a biometric travel document;

- registration of their most recent entry and exit in a specific log, with only those listed on the Schengen Information System (SIS) [a pan-European law enforcement database] subject to full registration of their entry and exit record."

The challenges facing the area of free movement call for increased external border controls, which are essential to maintain the principle of free movement within the Schengen area in the absence of internal border controls. To implement this, modernizing border control procedures offers an opportunity to support mobility while maintaining internal security and thus the very principle of free movement."

There are three main "challenges": "a steady rise in passenger flows, unprecedented migratory pressure and increased terrorist threats, with the specific issue of trips to and from terrorist areas."

The note says that "terrorist acts have served as a chilling reminder of the threats posed by certain European nationals or people with the right of free movement upon their return from terrorist areas."

Following the attacks in France in January, EU Member States agreed to carry out more detailed checks on EU citizens and residents who match profiles drawn up by the European Commission.

The note proposes extending an enhanced level of suspicion to everyone entering the EU, arguing that this will be possible "if more use is made of modern automated control technologies promoted by the 'Smart Borders' package."

Subjecting everyone entering the EU to the same level of automated scrutiny would also mean improved "added value and return on investment" in relation to new automated border gates and other equipment required for the "smart borders" project and reduced staff time spent conducting checks, amongst other things.

All Schengen states are obliged to collect and digitise fingerprints and facial images for passports, although nationals from Schengen states whose passports contain this biometric data are not obliged to have their fingerprints or faces scanned for verification when entering the Schengen area. [3]

Following the publication of the Commission's "smart borders" proposals in February 2013, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU agreed to launch a pilot project in order to try to better understand how the proposed systems might work.

12 EU states are taking part in the pilot, which is being coordinated by the EU Agency for Large-Scale IT Systems and will examine the functioning of Entry/Exit Systems and Automated Border Control (ABC) gates. [4]

[1] 2013 Commission proposals for: Entry/Exit System (pdf); Registered Traveller Programme (pdf); amendments to the Schengen Borders Code (pdf)
[2] French delegation, 'Smart borders for all', 12272/15, 25 September 2015
[3] EUR-Lex, 'Integration of biometric features in passports and travel documents'
[4] 'Lisbon airport first to trial EC’s smart borders programme', Security Document World, 26 May 2015

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