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Why Do We Need More Technology?

Submitted by on 27 Mar 2013 – 12:48

By Pasi Nokelainen, System Manager, Ministry of the Interior/Border Guard HQ, Finland

In January one of the Finnish TV-channels broadcasted a report on EU plans in the field of border security. The different aspects of the EUROSUR, the Entry-Exit System and the Registered Traveler Programme and the planned billions of Euros in new financing instrument were presented with footage of three tired, shoeless men behind fences somewhere in Greece. The following morning on the Good Morning show of the same channel, the Minister together with the President of the Border Security Union were asked questions on the use of UAV’s and whether in the future we will have these ‘predators’ flying around searching for the migrants trying to cross the borders. Part of the same reportage was an interview of an MEP in whose opinion the investment should rather be made to tackle the unemployment of young people in the EU Member States. The discussion around border security is and has been vivid and full of controversy.

On the one hand it is true that investments in border security have been considerable. However, some twenty years ago when the abolition of internal border controls and the creation of a common visa policy started along with the Schengen Convention, the world of international travel was completely different from what it is today. The scale and nature of global travel and migration as well as the Schengen area have expanded beyond the imagination of early 1990s. This change has forced the border management authorities and immigration agencies to adjust to new requirements and phenomena, the SIS being in practice the only information system to support the enforcement of these common policies. It was only a year and a half ago when the VIS started operations and this spring we are expecting the technical upgrade of the SIS in the form of SISII to go live. During this time the development in information technology has been tremendous and it has established itself as the backbone of border and immigration management. Relying on information and technology is dictated by today’s realities, but it does not mean that border security would solely depend on them. Without these investments in the technology and information systems, it would simply not be feasible to manage the borders and border crossing points with the current and future volumes in accordance with the current rules.

Border management in European Union context means first and foremost the enforcement of the common policies and implementation of the common rules. Sometimes in the discussion on border management and border security, the authorities are claimed to have a never-ending, if not blind, trust in technology and in information systems. There also seems to be a presumption that the borders already have an overwhelming arsenal of technology and all the information in the world is available by a click of the mouse. Unlike twenty years ago, it is a matter of fact that today’s world runs by technology and information systems. From the border authorities’ point of view the information systems and new technologies are a must – not for the sake of it, but simply to carry out the duties as set by the legal framework, i.e. the society.

Despite the two systems mentioned above, there are still considerable gaps in the information needed. While writing this, there is a fresh pile of documents on the Entry-Exit System and the Registered Traveler Programme waiting to be examined. When the SIS tells us who is not wanted – or who is wanted by the authorities – the VIS tells us whether the visa presented is a valid one and in the possession of its rightful holder. One of the tasks of the authorities is also to control compliance with the rules set for the length of stay of visitors. The proposed Entry-Exit System is not only proposed to tackle the issues of identification of overstayers, some of whom may be forced to do so, but its creation will also create new infrastructure for new services.

Despite of the resistance and sometimes fears we have of new technologies, we should try to see them as objectively as possible and learn from our experiences. The introduction of the electronic and biometric passport in the European Union member states was strongly argued against and opposed at the time. In reality, the outcome has been improved document security and strengthened identity confirmation and most of all the emergence of new services at the borders in the form of automated border crossing facilities. The biometric passport enabled the creation of these services and likewise, the Entry-Exit System will create the infrastructure enabling the enlargement of these services to other traveler groups, as one example of its positive impacts. Regardless of the challenges we should look at the opportunities offered by new technologies and explore these opportunities in an open dialogue. Undoubtedly, the discussion on the legislative proposals will be a lengthy and interesting one, but as one of those responsible for the implementation of the system in the future, I sincerely hope the compromise to come will be something which is not only legally satisfactory but also technically and practically feasible. However, even these new systems will not complete the puzzle of information gaps, and upgrades of the existing ones will still be needed.

Even if technology is crucial, there is still the human factor present. These tools are the basic things needed to comply with the legal obligations and expectations of society when producing confidence and trust in the functioning of the border management and immigration authorities. This trust and confidence, i.e. security, is not limited to the borders only but is an integral part of that society and its functioning.