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
EU agencies advise increased confiscation and extraction of asylum seekers‘ mobile phones and now provide a manual on how to do so. Apps to encrypt or disguise locations are disliked in the report as „countermeasures“ to surveillance.
Often the mobile phones they carry are the only connection between refugees and their relatives and friends in their country of origin or elsewhere. They contain contacts, personal communication as well as photos and videos as a memory of the home countries. Only within the European Union is it possible to apply for asylum in its member states. Therefore, the phones are also an indispensable aid for navigating to receiving countries and finding out about conditions and support there.
Asylum seekers‘ mobile phones are also of increasing interest to authorities. As punishment for irregular entry, border guards in Greece and Croatia, and most recently at the EU’s external border with Belarus, destroy them before abandoning their owners at sea or forcibly push them back. Police forces, on the other hand, confiscate the phones in order to gain information about routes used and people helping to flee. „Frontex and Europol: How refugees are tracked digitally“ weiterlesen
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
After Albania, the EU Border Agency has started an operation in Montenegro. The mission at the Croatian land border is to be extended to the sea borders. A status agreement with northern Macedonia is about to be signed, negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina are continuing.
On 15 July the EU border agency Frontex launched a new operation in Montenegro. After Albania, this is the second long-term operation in a third country outside the European Union. It follows the conclusion of a status agreement which came into force in July. It is led by the Montenegrin Border Police, Frontex provides support in terms of personnel, equipment and coordination of joint activities.The area of operation is the land border with Croatia. The government in Zagreb was therefore involved in drawing up the operation plan in accordance with Article 74 of Regulation (EU) 2019/1896 on the European Border and Coast Guard. „After Albania and Montenegro, Frontex now plans mission in Serbia“ weiterlesen
The EU Border Agency charters private aircraft to monitor the EU’s external borders. First Italy and Croatia have ordered the flights, now Frontex also flies in the Aegean Sea, above the Black Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The service will soon be supplemented by large drones.
Five years ago, Frontex installed a new service for the monitoring of the EU’s external borders. For flights of this „Frontex Aerial Surveillance Service“ (FASS), the agency charters twin-engine airplanes from European companies. Initially, the private aircraft were deployed on EU missions in the maritime „pre-frontier area“ of the European Union. These missions „Poseidon“, „Themis“ and „Indalo“ are under the leadership of Greece, Italy and Spain. Normally, all planes and helicopters inserted there come from police or border police from the EU Member States.
With the FASS airplanes, Frontex for the first time used their own assets, which is possible after a change of the Frontex regulation in 2016. Since 2017, Frontex offers the FASS service in bilateral agreements to EU Member States. Their operational differs from a regular Frontex mission, the agency sends the chartered surveillance flights in the central Mediterranean also to the Libyan Sea rescue zone and thus further south than in „Themis“. „Frontex Aerial Service: Reconnaissance for the so-called Libyan coast guard“ weiterlesen
In the Schengen Information System, police and secret services may, inter alia, issue alerts for secret monitoring. Authorities from non-EU states can now have searches carried out via a detour. The German government remains silent about the exact role of its own secret service.
The Schengen Information System (SIS) is the largest European database, which has been used for 25 years by border, police, customs or immigration authorities and secret services. Today’s SIS II involves 26 EU Member States (all except Ireland and Cyprus) as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. As of 1 January 2020, more than 90 million people and objects were stored. Most of the entries, which increase every year, come from Italy, followed by France and Germany. The number of searches is also growing rapidly, with almost seven billion of them reported last year. That is about 220 searches per second.
Each Member State is responsible for the accuracy of its entries and must respect deadlines for deletion. Information that is stored in SIS II may also come from third countries, which is part of the normal practice of police forces and secret services. Last year, however, the European Union launched a pilot project to extend these entries to selected „trusted third countries“ and to find a uniform procedure for handling them. „EU opens its biggest database for secret services from third countries“ weiterlesen
Even without imminent EU accession, all third countries in South-East Europe will gradually be connected to European information systems. They will set up a fingerprint database along the lines of the EU model and, as in the Prüm Treaty, will make it possible to query biometric data. Secret services in the Western Balkans also use the Schengen Information System through a back door.
Albania, Northern Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro are EU accession candidates, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are considered potential candidate countries. All governments therefore receive so-called Pre-accession Assistance for the development of police and border police capabilities. They are based on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement that the countries have concluded with the EU.
The European Union now wants to significantly expand security cooperation with all the countries of the Western Balkans. One focus is on irregular migration. The governments in South-East Europe have already received 216 million Euros for their control since 2007, and funds of a similar amount have flowed into the construction and operation of camps for refugees. According to a proposal by the Croatian Council Presidency, the Western Balkan governments should now set up a biometric database for refugees. It will be based on the Eurodac database, in which EU member states process the fingerprints of asylum seekers. The two fingerprint systems could then be merged after possible EU accession. In addition to fingerprints, Eurodac also stores facial images, but they are not yet searchable. „Western Balkans: Clandestine connection to EU databases“ weiterlesen
The German police also uses a „decryption platform“ at Europol. The system belongs to an „innovation laboratory“ and is currently being equipped with new technology. The EU Commission will soon decide whether Europol should also handle the decryption of secure connections.
Since 2014, Europol has been offering Member States support in decrypting data carriers or mobile phones. The unit is based at the „Centre for Combating Cybercrime“ (EC3), which was set up a year earlier at the headquarters of the EU Police Agency in The Hague. What forensic tools Europol uses for this purpose is not answered by the European Commission, which is responsible for the functioning of the EU agencies.
According to Europol’s annual report for 2018, the „decryption platform“ has been requested 32 times since its creation, in 12 cases successfully. Operations are carried out in various fields, including cybercrime, drug trafficking and migrant smuggling. According to the German government, the services are also available to third states. „Backdoors vs. Trojans: Europol is examining „solutions“ against end-to-end encryption“ weiterlesen
The EU Border Agency’s air surveillance could have triggered unlawful deportations at external borders. Such operations took place off Libya and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
For two years now, the Frontex Border Agency has been offering EU Member States the possibility of airborne monitoring of their external borders. The flights of this „Multipurpose Aerial Surveillance“ (MAS) are part of the surveillance system EUROSUR, with which Frontex monitors all external borders of the European Union and its „pre-frontier area“. EUROSUR provides so called Fusion Services, including satellite reconnaissance and drone flights.
Frontex installed the manned air surveillance service in the summer of 2017. The agency therefore commissioned a charter company in an operating agreement to fly a twin-engine aircraft of the type „Diamond DA-42“ . Their recorded video data will be transmitted in real time to the Frontex headquarters in Warsaw. Several national EUROSUR contact points, including in Spain, Portugal and Italy, can also receive the live images. „Does Frontex arrange illegal push backs?“ weiterlesen
Three EU agencies are responsible for maritime safety, in an agreement they want to benefit from joint reconnaissance capabilities. Drone flights are used for border, fisheries and customs controls, law enforcement and environmental protection. Seven European states are currently participating and an enlargement is planned.
The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has extended its drone flights to a total of six EU Member States and Iceland. According to EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, unmanned aerial vehicles of various sizes fly in Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Greece, Croatia, Italy.
The drone surveillance services are carried out for the coastguards of each country. They cover irregular immigration, smuggling, illegal fishing and air or sea pollution. If necessary, the drones can also be used for rescue at sea. EMSA works with the European Aviation Safety Agency to integrate the drones into civil airspace. „EU extends maritime surveillance with drones“ weiterlesen