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New data retention planned for border crossings of all European Union citizens

The European Union could soon save the date and place of each crossing of the EU’s external borders. Travellers’ identification documents would be read out and their biographical data saved along with information regarding border crossings. Police forces and intelligence services would have access to this data.

By Matthias Monroy

The European Commission published the final report of the High-Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability in May. According to this document, European border authorities could soon – unbeknownst to the travellers – be able to trawl through the travel routes of all nationals of EU member states. Alongside their biographical data, the system to be set up will log the direction in which borders are crossed. This new data repository on border crossings at all land, sea and air borders might form part of the Schengen Information System II (SIS II), which is the largest police and border authority database. Preference is being given to the establishment of an entirely new database, however.

This proposal has been tabled against the backdrop of the Schengen Borders Code, which, since March, has stipulated systematic controls for all European Union citizens when crossing external borders. Identification documents are no longer only checked for their authenticity, but are cross-checked against the Schengen Information System II (SIS II) and two Interpol databases for stolen identification documents or those that are being traced. This new regulation is currently giving rise to long queues at passport control points at airports in EU member states.

Logs to be expanded 

Each retrieval of documents is logged in the interests of data protection and the freedom of information. The Expert Group is now proposing that this log be expanded to include the place and time when borders were crossed. Law enforcement agencies could then access this data and trace individuals’ travel routes. The purpose of the database is not only to enhance protection against threats, but also to facilitate investigations relating to terrorism and serious crimes.

This new proposal does not fall within the remit of the EU’s Passenger Name Record (PNR), which is to be introduced in the near future. The PNR will likewise process extensive data on travellers’ border crossings and store this information for a period of five years.

The idea of subjecting European Union citizens’ travel histories to greater surveillance is not new. The French and the German Ministry of the Interior had already launched a proposal of this kind. This initiative recommends that the upcoming Entry-Exit System (EES), in which all border crossings of third-country nationals are to be stored, be extended to include EU nationals. However, the Expert Group established by the Commission rejected this option as it deemed it to be contrary to the object and purpose of the EES – namely monitoring of matters pertaining to residence law.

Further data repositories in the pipeline

Further proposals by the Expert Group include combining all biometric datasets from SIS II, the Visa Information System (VIS), the fingerprint database EURODAC and the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS). What is more, the European Commission is planning an EU-wide Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) for travellers from third countries. This is intended to supplement existing databases with timely information on planned border crossings.

An Entry-Exit System (EES) that is also being planned is intended to record the entries and exits of third-country nationals at EU external borders and process biometric data (fingerprints and/or facial images). The European Parliament and the Council agreed to a principled compromise on this matter last week. While access to data on the part of police forces and intelligence services is not in dispute, the Council has also called for migration authorities to be given access.

Translation: German Bundestag