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Fingerprints, facial scans, EU border data slurp too tasty for French to resist

France wants proposed rules applied to EU citizens as well

French authorities want fingerprint and facial scans of everyone entering or leaving the EU.

The proposal from the French delegation came as the European Commission puts more pressure on interior ministers to adopt its so-called “smart borders” package. The Commission plan is to set up a digital dragnet to monitor all non-EU nationals entering and exiting the EU.

According to the Commission, the programme is needed to deal with a huge increase in people coming to and from the EU. It predicts that air border crossings could increase by 80 per cent to 720 million in 2030. “This will result in longer queues for travellers if border checking procedures are not modernised in time,” warns the Commish document.

But hot on the heels of their own version of the Patriot Act, France (PDF) wants to “broaden the scope of the smart borders package for all travellers, also including European nationals”.

The scheme was first proposed two years ago, but has been revived along with other security surveillance schemes such as PNR.

Currently border checks for the Schengen area are based on passport visa stamps. There is no pan-European database recording travellers’ entries or exits. This makes it difficult for authorities to detect “overstayers” says the Commission.

Thirteen EU countries - Finland, Estonia, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Portugal and Malta - currently run national Entry/Exit systems, but these are not linked together. “The entry and exit records cannot therefore be matched when persons leave the Schengen area through another Member State than the one from which they entered,” says the Commission.

It wants to see an EU-wide Entry/Exit System (EES) as well as the Registered Travellers Programme (RTP).

Under the proposed RTP, pre-vetted and pre-screened third-country travellers would be given a smartcard containing their unique identifier to swipe on arrival and departure at the border. “The gate would read the [card] and the fingerprints of the travellers. If all checks are successful, the traveller is able to pass through the automated gate. In case of any issue, the traveller would be assisted by a border guard,” says the Commission.

Anyone over the age of 12 would be allowed to apply for the RTP and applications would be granted using the same criteria as the current multiple-entry visa.

The EES would simply digitise the current passport stamps system and would start with the registration of names, passport details, dates, etc. But after three years of operation the Commission wants fingerprints as well. The data would be stored for six months in “ordinary cases” and for five years in cases of “overstay”.

The estimated costs for the development and operation of the two systems up to 2020 are €513m for the EES and €587m for the RTP. The Commission says that the streamlined border process will see national governments “making considerable cost savings as of the second year of operations”.

Data processing will be supervised by the European Data Protection Supervisor when EU institutions and bodies are involved, and by the national data protection authorities, when a single country is involved, but that is unlikely to allay the fears of privacy activists. ®

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