The European Union is weeks away from what could be the biggest and most complex deployment of biometrics in the world.
A special region in Europe, the Schengen zone, is to be secured with a land, sea and air entry-exit system comprised of hundreds of face and fingerprint biometrics kiosks.
Beginning in September, the system will do its part to protect the Schengen zone – 26 EU and non-EU nations that do not have border checkpoints through which travelers must pass. It is the same model as interstate travel in the United States.
A new analysis of the EU’s massive, two-part traveler-tracking program sketches plans that outstrip anything being seriously considered in the United States, especially along the nation’s politically sensitive border with Mexico.
The author, Phillip Linderman, a senior consular representative in the U.S. Mission to the European Union from 2018 to 2021, directly compares the EU’s ambitions to those of the United States.
For all the emotion heaped on the border issue by the United States and its home-grown technological strength, Linderman finds its traveler-tracking efforts incomplete and piecemeal compared to what is happening in the Schengen Zone.
The Entry/Exit System is twinned with the European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS, which Linderman likens to the U.S.’s Customs and Border Protection agency’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization program. ESTA is used to vet and pre-authorize visa-free travelers into the country.
Attention is on the EES because it is nearing launch first and because it will be building a database on which ETIAS will operate.
The system will collect finger and face biometrics from all foreign nationals that want to enter – and exit – the Schengen zone. The data will be gathered at air- and seaports as well as land crossings and will be interoperable with all relevant government agencies.
Linderman notes that the U.S. operates “true biometric identity verification only at air and sea entry points,” and then only on arriving travelers, not those exiting. Biometric verification, he says, is not used at official land crossing points, though CBP lists over 70 deployments of its biometric system at land crossings.
This program should be a dream for self-enrollment biometric kiosk makers as the EU apparently will throw sheer numbers of the devices at airports, for instance, to minimize backups. The devices will scan passports, faces and four fingerprints per traveler.
Land crossings into and out of the zone will get gates where people scan their documents, a camera scans their face (for matching with documents) and an entry or exit determination is made using software.
In fact, says Linderman, the EU is fundamentally changing how Schengen border officials work because of the program.
Officials who had examined travelers and their information before loudly stamping documents will carry mobile enrollment devices and oversee auto-enrollment operations. The processing of questionable travelers by officials will happen only when something unusual happens at a kiosk.