With more and more people crossing the EU borders, the European Commission is making several strategic investments to improve and optimise its border control and protection. Of these, the building of a new shared biometric matching system (sBMS) might well be the most innovative and far-reaching investment, as it aims to increase the use of biometric technologies for border security, along with raising standards for personal data protection.
In 2025, the number of regular border crossings in the European Union is forecast to rise to an impressive total of 887 million*. And that number is not even taking into account the irregular or illegal crossings on the EU’s external borders. Fortunately, since the record year of 2015, those have dropped substantially again, to just over 139,000.
Nevertheless, overall it looks like a rise in border crossings is to be expected in the coming years. And with it come rising demands and challenges for the European agencies that are at the forefront of our border management. Probably best-known is Frontex: the operational arm that provides human resources, such as border guards. Equally important, though, is eu-LISA: the technical arm that provides all the necessary tools for border management, such as databases.
Interoperability is key
That eu-LISA is currently building one of the world’s largest biometric systems for border protection fits in with a general trend in border management: the shift from a purely manual process to an intelligence-based approach. Key to the success of such an approach is the interoperability of the different EU information systems for security, border and migration management. For a quick introduction to those central EU systems, check out this earlier post by my colleague Julien Heintz.
The European Commission itself defines interoperability as the ability of information systems to exchange data and to enable the sharing of information. In this particular case, that ability not merely allows the different systems to complement each other. It also and specifically helps to facilitate the correct identification of persons. And it contributes to fighting identity fraud. Interoperability thus ensures that end-users, such as border guards, law enforcement officers, immigration officials and judicial authorities, have a fast, seamless, systematic and controlled access to the information they need to perform their tasks.
In the case of the shared biometric matching system (sBMS), that information is exclusively biometric in nature - as the name itself suggests. Biometrics are biological measurements or physical characteristics that uniquely identify an individual, such as fingerprints, palm veins or irises. Fingerprint mapping, facial recognition and retina scans are some of the best known and most mature applications of biometric technology. By its very nature, biometric technology can be especially helpful in reducing the number of illegal immigrants or other persons who try to cross the EU borders with fraudulent documents.
Sopra Steria is part of a consortium that is supporting eu-LISA with the development of the sBMS. In my next post I will tell you more about the medium- and long-term purpose of this new information system.
*Not taking into account the impact of Covid-19.