01 July 2016
The possibility of subjecting all travellers entering and leaving the EU to the proposed Entry-Exit System - which would mean mandatory fingerprint checks and facial scans at the EU's external borders - is to be discussed by a new 'High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability', which counts numerous law enforcement and security agencies amongst its members, but seemingly no data protection officials or authorities.
If a proposal made by the Commission in April is agreed in its current form by the Council and the Parliament, the data of certain categories of non-EU nationals will be recorded and checked in the EES when they enter and leave the Schengen area, in order to detect visa "overstayers" (see Article 2 of the proposed Regulation for details of the travellers included in the proposal's scope).
Member States' law enforcement and security agencies, as well as Europol, will also be permitted to access the system "for the purposes of the prevention, detection and investigation of terrorist offences or of other serious criminal offences."
It was the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 that led the French government to propose that the EES be extended to cover all EU and third-country nationals, in a note that said:
"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."
Now the possibility of extending the system's scope is to be discussed by a new 'High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability', which was set up by the Commission in mid-March "to help to develop a joint strategy to make data management in the Union more effective and efficient, in full respect of data protection requirements, to better protect its external borders and enhance its internal security."
The proposal was included in a new "Roadmap to enhance information exchange and information management including interoperability solutions in the Justice and Home Affairs area" (LIMITE doc no: 9368-REV-1-16, pdf), approved by the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 10 June, and is confirmed in a note sent on 16 June from the Dutch Presidency of the Council to the Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum (LIMITE doc no: 10424/16, pdf)
The group (European Commission, link) is made up of one representative from each Member State and one from Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland; the EU's Counter-Terrorism Coordinator; Frontex, the EU Agency for Large-Scale IT Systems; the European Asylum Support Office; Europol; and the General Secretariat of the Council.
The EU Fundamental Rights Agency is also a member, but the European Data Protection Supervisor is not - which is curious considering the stated need for the group to ensure "full respect of data protection requirements" in its forthcoming proposals, which are due to be published in June 2017.
Other issues under discussion regarding the EES are the issue of non-EU nationals who are able to stay in the Schengen area for longer than the standard 90-in-180 days for short-stay visa holders (due to bilateral agreements between their state of nationality and Member States); how many and which fingerprints to take from those required to provide fingerprint data for the EES; and access to the Visa Information System (VIS) for Member States that "do not yet fully apply the Schengen acquis" - for example, Bulgaria (Novinite, link).
The issues raised in the Presidency's note were discussed at a SCIFA meeting on 21 June, the minutes of which have not yet been published. No minutes from the High-Level Expert Group's first meeting (which took place on 20 June) have yet been published. See: High Level Expert Group's first meeting on Information Systems and Interoperability (eu-LISA, link)
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