EU building info systems to help secure borders

European Union site on free movement of persons, asylum and immigration

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Like the United States, the European Union is seeking to improve border security without putting undue burdens on travelers or shippers of goods. As part of that effort, the EU is enhancing or developing several systems to replace the aging Schengen Information System.

That 10-year-old centralized database has not kept up with the EU's growth to 25 nations, with two more set to join in January. In addition, although SIS allows border agents to check travelers’ identities, it only contains biographical information.

Telmo Baltazar, political justice, freedom and security counselor for the European Commission’s delegation to the United States, said the primary new system, called SIS II, will store biometric data and allow agents to search multimedia data. He said the new system will be more modular and flexible to adapt to changing requirements.

SIS II will contain about 22 million records and serve about 500,000 end users, including officials at ports of entry, police stations and other agencies. It will handle about 850,000 queries per day, he said. The current system contains 15 million records of individuals, firearms, vehicles, bank notes, identification documents and other data.

Last year, the European Commission signed a $48.5 million contract with Hewlett-Packard and three European-based information technology companies to develop SIS II.

The EU is also developing a Visa Information System (VIS) that is similar to the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program. Baltazar said VIS will be a centralized database that will exchange visa information among member states. It will alert officials if an individual who was denied a visa from one country’s consulate tries to obtain one from another consulate.

Baltazar, who spoke at the Identity Management Conference sponsored by the IT Association of America, said the plan is to have two computer centers connecting 3,500 consular posts worldwide and 12,000 users in 30 participating countries, including several non-EU members. The EU expects 20 million visa requests for 2007-2008, he said.

The EU is also developing a Biometric Matching System that will link fingerprints to individuals to verify their identities, Baltazar said. He said the system will work with VIS and store up to 70 million 10-fingerprint records, making it the largest biometric-matching database in the world.

Sarkar is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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