EU Entry/Exit System: Border police purchases new biometric control technologies

An EU regulation forces travellers from third countries to leave their fingerprints and facial image when crossing the border. All Member States must therefore invest in new infrastructure at land, sea and air borders. Because checks therefore take longer, authorities are procuring self-service kiosks for handing in biometric data.

More than two years ago, in November 2017, the European Union adopted the regulation establishing an „Entry/Exit System“ (EES). All third-country nationals, whether they require a visa or are exempt from the visa requirement, will soon be recorded with their biometric data when they cross an external Schengen border. This is intended to identify so-called „overstayers“, which refers to persons who overrun their visa and do not leave the country within the prescribed period. The electronic registration will also replace the manual stamping of passports.

In addition to personal data and identity documents, four fingerprints, the facial image and the date and place of entry and exit of travellers who have not applied for a visa are processed in the EES. If the travellers have already submitted their fingerprints when applying for a visa, these will also be imported.

Comparison with crime scene traces

The EES is operated by the European Agency for large-scale IT systems (eu-LISA). All countries applying the so-called Schengen acquis participate in the system. The EES regulation grants their law enforcement authorities access to the stored travel movements via national interfaces. The police agency Europol can also access it and, for example, compare fingerprint traces from crime scenes with the fingerprint data stored in the EES.

Face recognition in the EU project „SMart mobILity at the European land borders“ (all rights reserved SMILE).

Whenever a border is crossed, the data collected are cross-checked with the Schengen Information System, the Interpol file on stolen or lost identity documents and the relevant national search database. The EES is also networked with the Central Visa Information System (VIS). Visa authorities can query the system or export visa-related data to the EES.

In the EU research project „SMILE“, police authorities are working to link the EES with other, new EU information systems. The information that travellers provide during border controls in the EES will be compared with their preliminary interrogation in the ETIAS system, which has also been decided upon. The EU Commission is funding the „SMILE“ project with 5 million euros, results should be available in the summer.

Collection of biometric data delays border control

Originally, the EES was scheduled to be commissioned in 2021, but now it is expected to be launched in early 2022. Till then, all participating countries must ensure that new control technology is available at all border crossing points on land, at ports and airports. In April, the Jena-based company Jenetric, for example, reported that the German Federal Police had purchased 1,700 four-finger scanners from the company.

Pilot project of the Federal Police for „intelligent“ border controls at Frankfurt Airport (all rights reserved Bundespolizei).

The EES is actually intended to reduce delays in border controls. However, due to the taking of fingerprints and facial images, checks take considerably longer than before. This is confirmed by a now published evaluation report on a pilot project conducted by the Federal Police at Frankfurt Airport and the ferry terminal in Rostock-Warnemünde. According to the report, the EES „leads to a significant increase in the duration of border control processes“. The registration of biometric data alone delays the border crossing for visa-exempted third-country nationals to 89 seconds.

The introduction of the EES is therefore accompanied by new procedures for capturing biometric data. Border crossing is already simplified at many European airports with so-called „eGates“. Also children can now use these automatic control lanes.

EU permits self-service kiosks

In future, travellers will also be given the possibility to hand in their biometric data for the EES at a machine. This is made possible by an amendment to the Schengen Borders Code, Article 8a of which regulates the use of „self-service systems for pre-enrolling data in the EES“. If the person is not yet registered in the EES, he or she is stored at the self service kiosk with his or her data in a personal file. If this dossier already exists, it will be updated.

People who have a chip-based biometric ID document can also complete this procedure automatically. Their facial image or fingerprints are collected at the self-service kiosk and then compared in the „eGate“ by scanners. Only if the facial image comparison does not work unambiguously or the identity document could have been manipulated, the travellers are blocked in the „eGate“ and checked by officials.

Immigration interview by automat

Non-contact fingerprinting in testing (all rights reserved Frontex).

The Schengen States are free to choose whether to procure a partially automated border control system or a fully automated system. The border authorities can then link the existing „eGates“ with the self-service kiosks, which means that the verification process and border crossing take place at a single facility. In a research project, the border agency Frontex in Lisbon has tested such a procedure at an airport. Under the motto „Biometrics on the Move“, the biometric data was checked using contactless scanners.

The German Federal Police are now also buying such equipment. In a European announcement, 170 kiosks were initially put out to tender for individual airports, and a further 1,000 units are to be supplied under a framework contract. Such a device is marketed by the German company secunet, for example, which had already managed the pilot project of the Federal Police in Frankfurt and Rostock. Its self-service system is called „easykiosk“ and can be expanded as required. Thus, „alternative biometric components“ (such as iris recognition) or new document types can be integrated. If desired, the device can also handle the „immigration interview with the authorities“.

Image: „Happy Travellers“ in front of a self-service kiosk. The German police have put 1,170 such devices out to tender for procurement (all rights reserved secunet).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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