Frontex: Migration control from space

In EUROSUR, EU member states use various satellite services for maritime surveillance. Frontex and the Maritime Security Agency conclude cooperation agreements with the „Copernicus“ programme for this purpose.

All the information Frontex collects at the EU’s external borders is fed into the EUROSUR border surveillance system, which went into operation in 2014. From space, this data comes from the satellites of the EU’s Copernicus Earth Observation Programme, which is used for security, civil protection, environmental management and climate change research. To date, the EU has launched several optical and radar-based reconnaissance satellites for the programme. The space data are received and processed by the EU Satellite Centre (SatCen) in Torrejón, Spain, which has the status of an agency.

In the first years of its existence, Copernicus was known as Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES). After the European satellite navigation system „Galileo“, the European Commission described the platform as the „second flagship“ of European space policy, tailored to increased security needs. While the purpose of GMES in public was emphasised to be the monitoring of climate change and natural resources, there was rather silence about the „S“ for „security“. The first security-oriented GMES offshoots were LIMES (Land and Maritime Monitoring for Environment and Security), G-MOSAIC (GMES services for Management of Operations, Situation Awareness and Intelligence for regional Crises), MARISS (European Maritime Security Services), GMOSS (Global Monitoring for Security and Stability). „Frontex: Migration control from space“ weiterlesen

Frontex has air superiority

With its aerial surveillance, from space and soon possibly from the stratosphere, the EU border agency is becoming a quasi-secret service

Twice in the past six years, the EU has drastically expanded Frontex’s powers. In 2016, the agency was allowed to purchase its own equipment, and first began leasing its own aircraft. As a „Frontex Aerial Surveillance Service“ (FASS), they observe the central Mediterranean, the so-called Balkan route and the Aegean. Frontex is thus saying goodbye to the principle of always borrowing personnel and equipment for its missions from the member states.This gives the agency considerably more creative power with less control over its activities at the same time.

The FASS flights can be requested by any EU member state with an external border. The decision whether to deploy lies with Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri. Italy first made use of this in 2017, followed by the first deployment at a land border in Croatia in 2018. In the meantime, FASS aircraft are also flying in Montenegro, Greece and other countries. „Frontex has air superiority“ weiterlesen

Space-Eye: Satellite surveillance from underneath

High-resolution images from earth observation could help with non-governmental sea rescues in the Mediterranean. However, these have to be purchased from commercial providers, because openly accessible images from EU satellites are of low quality. An initiative now wants to enrich this data with other sources and evaluate it with algorithms.

The EU border agency Frontex uses satellites to stop unwanted migration to Europe. As part of the EUROSUR surveillance system, Frontex has set up various services to automatically detect ships and boats carrying refugees with the help of aircraft, drones and also satellites. Frontex then informs the relevant coast guards of the sighting; North African authorities then return the boat occupants to countries such as Libya or Tunisia. The satellite data comes from the Sentinels of the EU’s „Copernicus“ earth observation programme; Frontex also buys higher-resolution images from private providers. In addition to Frontex, the EU’s maritime safety agency EMSA also maintains a satellite-based monitoring system, „CleanSeaNet“.

The German association Space-Eye is now also experimenting with the use of satellite data. The information is intended to help rescue organisations take on board people in distress at sea and bring them to a safe harbour. The association’s satellite working group consists of a dozen scientists and students. For the interview, i spoke with development engineer Elli Wittmann, Steffen Merseburg and Jonathan. „Space-Eye: Satellite surveillance from underneath“ weiterlesen

Frontex closes surveillance gaps in the air and in space

High-flying drones are to reconnoitre the EU’s external borders from the stratosphere, a static zeppelin is already observing close to the ground. With interception systems in space, the EU border agency wants to locate and possibly tap satellite telephones in the Mediterranean. So far, the technology has only been installed in aircraft.

The European Union‘s border agency Frontex is expanding its „surveillance capability“ with high-flying platforms. In a call for tenders, systems are being sought for use in the stratosphere. At an altitude of 20 kilometres, they are to close the gap between the aircraft, drones and satellites already in use.

The systems sought include so-called high-altitude platforms (HAPS) or lighter-than-air (LTA) solutions, such as those currently being developed to series maturity by the European armament company Airbus with the glider „Zephyr“ or its French competitor Thales with the zeppelin-like „Stratobus“, which can last for months or even years. Suppliers of microsatellites, which can be launched into space extremely cheaply these days, can also apply.

The launch of HAPS has been driven by the EU Space Agency since 2017, and its market share at the time was estimated to be over €7 billion by 2024. Frontex could therefore be one of the first users of the new technology, as with the „Space Data Highway“. „Frontex closes surveillance gaps in the air and in space“ weiterlesen

Border drones (Part 1): Unmanned surveillance of the EU’s external borders by Frontex

Since 2009, the EU Border Agency Frontex has been hosting training events on drones and inviting manufacturers to regular demonstrations. There, border police from Schengen member states were presented market-available unmanned systems for the surveillance of land and maritime borders. The basis for this is the first Frontex Regulation, adopted in 2004, which contains the mandate to „follow up on the development of research relevant for the control and surveillance of external borders“. The agency’s remit therefore includes continuous exchange with „cross-sectorial partners“ in order to „transform operational requirements into innovative operational solutions“.

In the case of the introduction of these technologies, Frontex is to coordinate with European standardisation institutes as appropriate. In 2010, small drones were the initial focus in Finland. A year later, high-flying MALE-class aircraft were unveiled in the Greek port city of Aktio. Prior to this, Frontex had issued a call for the event to explore the integration of drones into the EU border surveillance system EUROSUR. Subsequently, aircraft such as the Israeli „Heron 1“, the American „Predator“, the French „Patroller“ as well as the „Euro Hawk“ (which at the time was in the procurement phase for the German Armed Forces as a spy drone) were presented in lectures. Some drones were demonstrated live; in the case of the Spanish offshoot of the French arms company Thales, the latter touted the suitability of its „Fulmar“ against irregular migration.

In its 2012 work programme, Frontex announced its intention to „identify more cost-efficient and operational effective solutions for aerial border surveillance in particular Unmanned Aircraft Systems“. Under the name „All Eyes“, the agency then wanted to identify cheap and effective solutions, including also so-called Optional Piloted Aerial Vehicles (OPV). Within nine months, an initial study on this was to be carried out, followed by „practical field tests and an evaluation“. The budget was 450,000 euros. „Border drones (Part 1): Unmanned surveillance of the EU’s external borders by Frontex“ weiterlesen

EU drones: Permanent permit for maritime surveillance

This year, the EU is again conducting drone flights for many Member States. Due to many unfulfilled requests, unmanned capabilities are now being expanded. Two drones from Austria and Portugal have become established for coastguard missions. One of the manufacturers has now received a Europe-wide certificate for the first time.

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has presented its plans for unmanned flights over European seas this year. According to the report, 14 European governments want to use EMSA drones for coastguard tasks, tracking pollution or inspecting port facilities. This is stated in the EU Commission’s answer to a written question by MEP Özlem Demirel.

EMSA has become the European Union’s drone agency after initial tests in 2017. Missions were first carried out for the coast guard of Iceland. Subsequently, Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and France, as well as the EU Fisheries Agency, have ordered the services with different types of drones. The duration of the respective missions is usually three months. Soon, Frontex will also have large drones at its disposal; until then, the EU border agency uses EMSA unmanned aerial vehicles. „EU drones: Permanent permit for maritime surveillance“ weiterlesen

Privileged third country: EU security cooperation with Great Britain after Brexit

British authorities continue to participate in many EU instruments in the area of justice and home affairs, and cooperation in some cases even goes further than with the Schengen states Norway, Iceland or Switzerland. The exit from Europol and the Schengen Information System could strengthen the secret services.

With its withdrawal from the European Union, the UK will have left the „European Area of Freedom, Security and Justice“ as of 1 January 2021, and the country will become a third country from the EU’s perspective. This will also end cooperation within the framework of the Schengen Agreement. The government in London will lose its place as one of the most important partners in the EU security architecture. The loss of participation in the Schengen Information System (SIS II) will probably weigh heavily in the UK. In 2019, British police forces and intelligence services had around 37,000 persons and 4.5 million objects stored there. Many covert Article 36 alerts, which allow police and domestic intelligence to track the movements of wanted persons across the EU, also originated in the UK.

However, British authorities are to be allowed to continue to participate in important EU information systems in the area of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) and also to cooperate with agencies. These are the provisions of the provisional „EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement“ (TCA), which the parties negotiated at the last minute before the turn of the year. „Privileged third country: EU security cooperation with Great Britain after Brexit“ weiterlesen

EU Commission wants to use artificial intelligence for surveillance

An EU document compares machine learning with the invention of electricity. A total of 20 billion euros is to be invested in research into „AI made in Europe“.

A „Coordinated Plan on Artificial Intelligence“ of the European Union envisages the increased use of algorithms in the areas of „migration, infrastructure monitoring“. This is the message in the annex to the communication from the EU Commission, which the Secretary General addressed to the Council shortly before Christmas. AI-based machine learning is to be used primarily in the areas of geoinformation and earth observation.

The EU operates the „Copernicus“ programme, which initially consists of six optical and radar-based satellites. The images and geodata generated from space are used for environmental and safety purposes. Frontex, which requests satellite data for its EUROSUR border surveillance system via „Copernicus“, is regarded as the most important customer in the security sector. The EU Border Agency also uses satellite data to monitor the „pre-frontier area“. According to Frontex, EUROSUR is already able to use algorithms to distinguish between suspicious and unsuspicious ships. „EU Commission wants to use artificial intelligence for surveillance“ weiterlesen

EU to process „confidential security information“ with Libyan Coast Guard

The EU Border Agency has massively strengthened its surveillance capabilities. To make better use of this information, it will now be passed to the Libyan Coast Guard. This is legally impossible, now Frontex is pressing for the relevant regulations to be renewed. The navy in Libya, however, is using a Gmail address.

Libya is to be connected to the European surveillance network „Seahorse Mediterranean“ before the end of December this year. This was written by the State Secretary at the German Federal Foreign Office in response to a parliamentary question. Libyan authorities could learn about relevant incidents in the Mediterranean via the new cooperation. The military coastguard, for example, would receive the coordinates of boats with refugees to bring them back to Libya.

In „Seahorse Mediterranean“ the southern Mediterranean countries of the European Union are joined. In addition to Italy, Malta, Greece, Cyprus, France and Spain, Portugal is also part of the network. It is a multilateral network of some Member States, not an institution of the European Union. „Seahorse Mediterranean“, however, it is connected to the EUROSUR system through which the European Union monitors its external borders. EUROSUR is intended to contribute to an „integrated European border management“. „EU to process „confidential security information“ with Libyan Coast Guard“ weiterlesen

The European Border Intelligence Service

With EUROSUR, the EU Commission has a powerful border surveillance system at its disposal. It brings together reconnaissance data from aircraft, drones and soon also aerostatic balloons. Based on the images, a Frontex unit then decides on further measures in the „pre-frontier area“.

The EU border agency Frontex has launched a series of new surveillance methods in the Mediterranean. This was written by EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in response to several questions from MEP Sabine Lösing. The capabilities are part of the EUROSUR border surveillance system launched by the European Union five years ago. It links the Frontex headquarters in Warsaw with the border authorities of the 28 Member States. Through their national coordination centres, Frontex is informed of all important incidents at the external borders of the European Union. According to the latest figures, around 148,000 irregular migration incidents have been reported since EUROSUR was set up, and around 33,000 have concerned organised crime. „The European Border Intelligence Service“ weiterlesen