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Border Control in Practice — The Role of Technology

Submitted by on 27 Mar 2013 – 12:21

By Ilkka Laitinen, Executive Director, Frontex

Technology offers great potential to meet the dual objective of enhancing border security while facilitating cross-border travel. As part of its mission, Frontex proactively monitors and contributes to developments in research relevant to checks and surveillance at the external borders. Practical co-operation with Member States’ authorities and other stakeholders involved in border management is at the core of this endeavour.

As international travel flows continue to rise, the pressure to process large volumes of people at the borders will also keep growing. Yet the current infrastructure at international border crossing points, as well as the traditional approach to border control, pose a number of operational and business challenges to border management services, port authorities and carriers. New tools and innovative solutions are required to tackle these challenges. The key to success also lies, however, in practical co-operation and mutual trust.

Automated Border Control (ABC)

The shift from manual border checks to the introduction of ABC solutions constitutes a global trend and as such calls for a global approach, focusing on harmonisation and interoperability. To foster a much-needed international dialogue and to promote practical co-operation, Frontex and the European Commission co-hosted the first global conference on ABC in Warsaw, in October 2012. The event gathered representatives of EU Member States, third countries, EU agencies, international organisations, standardisation bodies, technology providers and research bodies to discuss operational and practical challenges linked to the use of automation, and the benefits of global interoperability. This experience clearly showed the need for continued work in this area.

Finding the balance between security and facilitation of bona fide travel is a core question often raised by border management authorities. Security has been central to border management for as long as international travel has existed. However, facilitation is one aspect that deserves more attention, particularly as it offers the potential to deliver significant benefits, including increasing processing capacity, operational efficiency and better risk management at the borders. Border management authorities should not be afraid of facilitation, provided this is risk-based.

A new border control paradigm that better strikes a balance between facilitation, security and cost-effectiveness should be geared towards the development of two core capabilities: end-to-end facilitation, encompassing the traveller journey as a whole, and advance risk management, as for border management authorities it is imperative to know who is coming to the border in advance. Frontex has taken steps to develop a strategic roadmap to advance the “Border checks of the future” concept. Yet the materialisation of this new paradigm demands combined efforts from all relevant stakeholders.

Border Surveillances

The surveillance of external borders, within the context of Frontex-co-ordinated operational co-operation, is one of the essential components of EU border-control policy.

Border surveillance activities take place across a wide range of border areas and present a variety of challenges. How to detect and track small boats? How to improve capability to detect persons and vehicles hidden under forest foliage? How can integration contribute to redress the limitations of current border surveillance systems? What is the added value of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPASs)/Optionally Piloted Vehicles (OPVs) for border surveillance purposes? What is the trade-off between effectiveness and cost? A range of systems are needed in order to meet surveillance requirements in conditions ranging from the open Atlantic to the Greek archipelago, and at land from Norway to Greece.

Eurosur — Co-operation in Practice

The European Border Surveillance System (Eurosur) was launched in 2008. The European Commission proposal for a Eurosur Regulation, tabled in December 2011, is currently being discussed by the European Parliament and the Council and is expected to enter into force in October 2013.

Eurosur will provide Member States’ border management authorities with an operational and technical framework that increases their situational awareness and improves reaction capability. Eurosur should also facilitate co-operation between national law enforcement authorities for internal security purposes. Under the framework of a Frontex project, the Eurosur communication network has been developed, operationalised and deployed to 18 Member States.

RPASs offer great potential for border surveillance. Their flexibility, endurance and long range enable them to cover large maritime areas and thus can contribute to detecting cross-border crime and irregular migration and, most importantly, to save human lives. The critical issue of operating RPASs in civilian airspace urgently needs to be resolved.

One as yet unanswered question about the use of RPASs concerns the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of such systems compared to more conventional border surveillance systems. A way forward is testing of RPASs in quasi-operational scenarios.

In 2012, Frontex invited industry to demonstrate a range of technological solutions including fast deployable and integrated 24/7 systems for land border surveillance for the first time in an operational environment. Frontex will follow up on this initiative and also facilitate further discussion among Member States with a view to cataloguing existing practices and identifying areas in which best practices in land border surveillance could be developed.

While important, technology can only achieve limited results without the requisite human element. In this regard, the experiences mentioned above evidence how innovative thinking and practical work in the spirit of co-operation can contribute to realising the full benefits of technological solutions in the area of border management.