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

Greece: EU Commission upgrades border surveillance – and criticises it at the same time

The Greek border police are using a sound cannon and drones on a new border fence, and the EU Commission expresses its „concern“ about this. However, it is itself funding several similar research projects, including a semi-autonomous drone with stealth features for „effective surveillance of borders and migration flows“

On Monday, the Associated Press (AP) news agency had reported that police in Greece plan to deploy a long-range sound cannon at the external border with Turkey in the future. The device, mounted on a police tank, makes a deafening noise with the volume of a jet engine. It is part of a system of steel walls that is being installed and tested along with drones on the 200-kilometre border with Turkey for migration defence. The vehicle, made by the Canadian manufacturer Streit, comes from a series of seized „Typhoons“ that were to be illegally exported to Libya via Dubai.

After the AP report about the sound cannons went viral, Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz had clarified that it was not an EU project. „Greece: EU Commission upgrades border surveillance – and criticises it at the same time“ weiterlesen

First test in Malta: Frontex drones approaching

A reconnaissance drone is to track down boats carrying refugees in the central Mediterranean Sea in the future, the main contractor is the Airbus Group. The range of the deployed „Heron 1“ also enables flights off the coasts of North Africa.

Frontex is apparently stationing its new drones in Malta. As the Times of Malta reports, the EU border agency carried out a first test flight there on Friday. The newspaper illustrates the report with photos of a „Heron 1“ on the runway of the international airport in Malta.

Frontex had tendered a contract for the procurement of large drones in 2019. The legal framework was the Frontex Regulation, renewed in 2016, which allows the agency to acquire or lease its own technical equipment, following a decision by the executive director. The vehicles, vessels, aircraft or surveillance equipment can then be used for joint operations, pilot projects or rapid interventions for border security purposes, according to Article 38. „First test in Malta: Frontex drones approaching“ weiterlesen

Unmanned surveillance for Fortress Europe

The agencies EMSA and Frontex have spent more than €300 million on drone services since 2016. The Mediterranean in particular is becoming a testing track for further projects.

According to the study „Eurodrones Inc.“ presented by Ben Hayes, Chris Jones and Eric Töpfer for Statewatch seven years ago, the European Commission had already spent over €315 million at that time to investigate the use of drones for border surveillance. These efforts focused on capabilities of member states and their national contact centres for EUROSUR. The border surveillance system, managed by Frontex in Warsaw, became operational in 2014 – initially only in some EU Member States.

The Statewatch study also documented in detail the investments made by the Defence Agency (EDA) in European drone research up to 2014. More than €190 million in funding for drones on land, at sea and in the air has flowed since the EU military agency was founded. 39 projects researched technologies or standards to make the unmanned systems usable for civilian and military purposes. „Unmanned surveillance for Fortress Europe“ weiterlesen

EU project iBorderCtrl: Is the lie detector coming or not?

A document made legible again reveals how the beneficiaries of EU security research have been pushing for legislative changes for the introduction of prohibited technologies. The EU Commission is now funding a follow-up project with 8 million euros.

For three years, a consortium of European companies, institutes, universities and police forces had been working in an EU project on technologies to make the work of border and customs authorities easier. Several applications were combined in a „Intelligent Portable Border Control System“ (iBorderCtrl), which officers can access via a mobile device. The principle is that travellers feed as much personal data as possible into the system themselves before entering the country.

The platform then carries out a risk assessment and includes other data sources. An algorithm decides whether the person is classified as harmless. Then the border crossing at automatic control gates can take place quickly and smoothly. Those who are classified as risky by iBorderCtrl have to go through a „manual“ border control. „EU project iBorderCtrl: Is the lie detector coming or not?“ weiterlesen

Frontex and the use of force

With the „Standing Corps“, the EU has an armed police force for the first time. The use of guns and other means of coercion is to be monitored by a „Committee on the Use of Force“, whose members are selected by the Frontex director. This reinforces the control deficit at the biggest EU agency.

Until now, Frontex relied exclusively on personnel and equipment sent from EU member states in its operations. The border agency had its own staff of up to 1,500 officers, but they were only in civilian clothes and mainly deployed at the headquarters in Warsaw. In the meantime, Frontex has become the largest agency in the Union in terms of staff and budget. The budget for this year is 544 million Euros, for the next seven years Frontex will receive 5.6 billion Euros.

Most of the money is currently spent on a new border force to implement the strengthened mandate of the border agency. The Frontex Regulation, renewed two years ago, provides for the creation of a „Standing Corps“ of 10,000 officers, divided into four categories for short- and long-term missions. 3,000 „Category 1“ officers will be assigned directly to the headquarters in Warsaw as so-called statutory personnel. They wear Frontex uniforms and are allowed to use other means of coercion in addition to pistols. This is the first time the European Union has had an armed police force. „Frontex and the use of force“ 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

EU law: No one can stop Frontex

For the first time, the EU border agency commands and arms its own police force. Because its director is „fully independent“, this reinforces a glaring control deficit.

Frontex is an agency which was established by the Council of the European Union in 2004 with Regulation 2007/2004 without a parliamentary decision. It was only subsequently given parliamentary legitimacy within the framework of the Treaty of Lisbon by means of several amendments to the Regulation (first with the amending Regulation 1186/2011 on the basis of Article 77 (2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

Frontex’s governing body is the Executive Director, Fabrice Leggeri, and his now three deputies. Leggeri is, according to the current Regulation 2019/1896, „completely independent in the performance of his or her duties“ from the other EU institutions as well as from the member states. He may „neither seek nor take instructions from any government or from any other body“. This also applies to the agency as such, which „should be independent as regards operational and technical matters and have legal, administrative and financial autonomy“. „EU law: No one can stop Frontex“ weiterlesen

Predicting crime and profiling: Europol and Frontex turn to artificial intelligence

The EU police agency will soon receive a new regulation that will allow sensitive personal data to be used for research purposes. Corresponding projects are already underway. As early as next year, the EU border agency wants to use an AI-based lie detector for immigration control.

The European police agency Europol has existed in The Hague since 1999. Its tasks include the storage and processing of data generated in the course of police investigations. Europol has set up a comprehensive Europol Information System (EIS) for this purpose, which currently contains around 1.3 million objects and 250,000 persons. It is filled by police forces from EU member states using a „data loader“ in an automated procedure. In addition, the agency operates files on various crime areas in so-called analysis projects, including, for example, terrorism, organised crime, cybercrime or drug-related crime.

Europol is only competent if a crime that has been committed or is suspected of being committed affects two or more member states. In this case, however, the agency may also process information on contact persons, witnesses or victims of a crime. This data is processed by a software that searches for so-called cross-matches. Europol hopes that this search for connections between crimes or perpetrators will lead to new investigative approaches. „Predicting crime and profiling: Europol and Frontex turn to artificial intelligence“ weiterlesen

Behavioural analysis and Twitter check: EU security research tests new „lie detector“ for border control

The EU Court of Justice is to decide how extensively the Commission must inform about a research project sensitive to fundamental rights. The decision is of great significance, because the successor to iBorderCtrl, which has long been terminated, is also problematic.

Last week, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg heard a case on the disclosure of the EU security research projec iBorderCtrl. It was supposed to develop a system for quick and easy border control. Travellers are thereby screened for suspicious behaviour with a risk analysis. It is not known how the platform will implement this in concrete terms. That is why MEP Patrick Breyer, who sits in the Brussels Parliament for the Pirate Party, has sued the EU Commission for more transparency.

From 2023, the EU will put into operation a „Travel Information and Authorisation System“ (ETIAS) in which entries must be declared before crossing the border. This affects all third-country nationals, even if they do not require a visa. iBorderCtrl is one of the projects that should develop or improve individual components of the ETIAS. This includes the fusion and analysis of as much traveller data as possible. „Behavioural analysis and Twitter check: EU security research tests new „lie detector“ for border control“ weiterlesen