EU signs contract for large-scale biometric database to protect borders

Passengers boarding a Scandinavian Airlines flight to Copenhagen use an airport-wide biometric facial recognition terminal at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, USA, 06 September 2018. [EPA-EFE/JIM LO SCALZO]

The European Union’s ICT agency for internal security and border control, eu-LISA, has signed a framework contract for a new biometric matching system which aims to create a database of fingerprints and facial images of more than 400 million third-country nationals by 2022.

As part of the four-year deal, technology providers IDEMIA and Sopra Steria will be involved in helping to build a new shared biometric matching system (sBMS), with the objective of fighting illegal immigration and trans-border crime across the 26 European countries in the passport-free Schengen area, eventually becoming one of the largest biometric systems in the world.

As part of the new set up, third-country nationals crossing the external borders of the Schengen states will be required to use the technology to submit their biometric data for identification purposes.

As well as the new Entry/Exit System (EES), both providers had also previously collaborated with eu-LISA on other border control projects, including the Schengen Information System (SIS), the Visa Information System (VIS), and the European Asylum Dactyloscopy Database (Eurodac).

Both IDEMIA and Sopra Steria welcomed the news this week.

“As a contributor to the Smart Borders Initiative from the first discussions with the European Commission, IDEMIA is looking forward to shaping the outcome of this major project, based on our comprehensive understanding of the current European systems,” Philippe Barreau, executive vice president of IDEMIA in charge of public security & identity, said in a statement.

The move to further digitise European borders with the collection of biometric identifiers comes as the EU looks more broadly into the possibility of harvesting such data for the purpose of fighting crime.

In February, leaked documents showed that police forces in the European Union are planning to establish an interconnected bloc-wide network of facial recognition databases.

An EU Council report, reportedly circulated among 10 member states last November, detailed measures led by Austria to legislate for the building of a network of facial recognition databases that could be used and accessed by police forces across the bloc.

The documents, obtained by The Intercept, correspond to a series of reports which examine whether the Prüm treaty, which contains rules for operational police cooperation between EU member states, should be expanded to include facial images.

The European Commission had previously wrestled with the idea of how much facial recognition technologies should be used on the bloc.

Earlier this year, documents obtained by EURACTIV suggested that the Commission had been mulling over a possible five-year moratorium on the technology as part of its White Paper on Artificial Intelligence  – its roadmap for how the executive would look to mitigate future risks in the field.

However, these plans were shelved in the final version of the White Paper, with the Commission instead opting for an “EU-wide debate on the use of remote biometric identification.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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