Border controls in Bavaria and Austria: Police to extract mobile phones

With the takeover of the sovereign border security, the Free State is also using new technology. The extraction of telephones is supposed to help in the detection of „smuggler networks“. Another application is „contactless identity verification“. The projects are perfecting the expansion of biometric EU databases.

Two years ago, the Bundestag passed the „law for better enforcement of the obligation to leave the country“. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) may now search mobile phones and other electronic devices of refugees in order to process their asylum applications. The information should help to determine their origin. The authorities evaluate, for example, the country codes of called telephone numbers and contacts and the domain endings of called websites. Geodata and the language used in text messages are also analysed. This practice could now be extended to border controls.

In the German-Austrian „SmartIdentification“ project, the Federal Police is researching the rapid evaluation of mobile phones of refugees. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with almost one million euros and runs until March next year. It belongs to the research area „Civil Security – Questions of Migration“.

Companies for digital forensics

Mobile border control technology in Bavaria. The vehicle could also be equipped with digital forensics (all rights reserved Bavarian State Ministry of the Interior/ Sammy Minkoff).

Once the research is complete, the platform will be tested by the border authorities. Apparently, the border between Germany and Austria is at the centre: In addition to the Federal Police, the Federal Ministry of the Interior in Vienna and universities in both countries are involved in „SmartIdentification“. Companies specialized in digital forensics are also on board. One of them is the Munich-based T3K-Forensics, which also conducts training courses on mobile phone forensics at the BAMF.

The application developed in „SmartIdentifikation“ uses the private photos to determine the age. The system is also used for identity verification, but the project description remains unspecific. The „data“ found on the telephone is used to verify the information provided. It is conceivable that facial images or personal data in the address book could be used for this purpose. Information from found documents might be compared with entries in databases.

Search for „communication platforms“

The project also promises a „smart phone-based analysis of migration trends“. The authorities intend to use this information to identify „smuggling routes“. The project description does not give any concrete expression to these data sources either. It is most probable that the address books or messenger apps of the telephones will be searched. Contacts found there could be compared with a file of already known or suspected persons. The authorities also want to gain access to undefined „alternative communication platforms“ when reading the telephones. Their data should enable conclusions to be drawn about „the discovery of the smugglers“.

The information is also used to determine and visualize popular migration routes. To do this, however, the application developed in „SmartIdentification“ would have to process geodata. This would be possible with motion profiles, for example from fitness apps, which are increasingly used in police investigations. This would make it possible to determine when a person has travelled or rested by means of transport. The data could be used to reconstruct the migration route.

Inspection without taking to the police station

The Bavarian police also want to simplify border controls. For unclear cases, the persons concerned are usually taken to police stations to check their details and documents. This procedure takes time and should therefore take place mobile at the green border. According to the Research Ministry, „there are currently no technical support resources available“.

The „VISOTEC Expert 600“ document checking and reading device from the German Bundesdruckerei. It is used on a mobile basis by the „border police“ of Bavaria (all rights reserved Bundesdruckerei).

The Federal Police have been using document reading and checking devices for many years, and since 2015 they have also been mobile. The platforms can be extended at will, for example with fingerprint scanners. With the controversial takeover of border controls by the Bavarian police, there are allegedly no corresponding devices. This is why the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office, together with its partner authority in Berlin, is researching „contactless identity verification in the field of migration“ (MEDIAN).

The document reading and checking devices first check the authenticity of the identity card and then scan the personal data optically. If it is a document with biometric data, these are read out. „MEDIAN“ should also enable the immediate capture of fingerprints and facial images. This will be followed by automatic comparison with the German INPOL file, several European databases and the Interpol database for lost or stolen documents. „MEDIAN“ provides a secure transmission channel for the border authorities involved.

Search in the „Common Identity Repository“

The research project will run for another two years and is funded by the government with 2.7 million euros. The application will also be used in a „field test“, presumably also on the border with Austria.

The BMBF projects on „Questions of Migration“ serve to finance new control technologies at the German internal border. They are thus a calming pill for Bavaria’s Minister of State for the Interior, who had repeatedly criticised the federal migration policy. The research is also perfecting the query of the new European data pots. In the „Interoperability“ project, all facial images and fingerprints available in EU databases are currently being combined in a „Common Identity Repository“. It should be completely searchable. So far, the search for facial images is only possible in the EURODAC fingerprint file.

Image: Bavaria’s Minister of the Interior presents the half-yearly report of the „border police“ (all rights reserved Bavarian State Ministry of the Interior/ Sammy Minkoff).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.