March 2, 2013
The “Smart Borders” project aims to place 21st-century technology at EU border crossings. Critics think it’s little more than an effort to collect data – one that makes “felons” out of all visitors to Europe.
“Open” and “enticing” is how the EU hopes to present itself to the world beyond its borders. It follows naturally, then, that when non-EU nationals arrive in Europe they should feel as comfortable as possible, says the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström of Sweden.
At the unveiling of the “Smart Borders” project, Malmström extolled its usefulness – for border control agencies, visitors who travel to the EU often, EU member states or for the economy of the European Union.
“According to the European statistics office, Eurostat, non-EU citizens contributed 271 million euros ($354 million dollars) to the EU economy in 2011,” Malmström said. Beyond revenues, the commissioner believes that the advent of smartphones and data storage technologies have rendered obselete the physical stamping of passports.
The “Smart Borders” project is made up of two components, both of which would be implemented in all EU countries by 2018 if the plan is approved by the EU Parliament. One is the “Registered Travellers Programme” (RTP), the other the “Entry/Exit System” (EES). To comply with the system, all airports, harbors and at least two thousand border control checkpoints will have to be newly outfitted. To do so will cost approximately 1.1 billion euros.
RTP is intended to ease the immigration burden on non-EU citizens who travel regularly to EU member states. Travelers can register for the program, and, if approved, will pay a fee for a chip that allows them to pass through an automatic counter upon entering or exiting a country, with no further checks or controls.
A privacy nightmare?
The EES, by comparison, will record the biometric data of visitors to the EU and will then reference it against visa regulations on lengths of stay. The check is intended to prohibit individuals from entering the EU legally and then remaining there longer than allowed. Data will be retained for periods of six months – except in the case of non-EU citizens who have overstayed their visa allowance in the past. For those individuals, data can be stored indefinitely.
The EEP proposal in particular has garnered strong opposition. The official justification given for implementing “Smart Borders,” says Ska Keller, a European parliamentarian for the European Green Party, is that the EU hopes to prevent an excessive influx of refugees from countries involved in the Arab Spring – or from any other crisis area.