In a previous post, I briefly touched upon the new information systems that the European Union is developing to improve its border management as well as the police and judicial cooperation between its Member States. Let’s take a closer look now at the specific challenges facing one of these new systems: the Entry/Exit System (EES).
Designed to facilitate the processing and automatic monitoring of Third Country Nationals (TCN, i.e. non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens) crossing the EU’s external borders, the aim of this new information system is to collect data of border-crossings - and in doing so, to abolish the old-fashioned passport stamps. In addition to the biographical passport data and the dates and places of entry and exit from the EU, EES will also store biometric data such as facial images and fingerprints. The Entry/Exit System will be operated by eu-LISA, the European Union’s agency in charge of Large-scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice.
Compared to the other centralised systems developed and maintained by eu-LISA, EES requires the installation and integration of special equipment such as self-service kiosks for travellers, ABC gates (Automated Border Control), also referred to as e-gates (electronic gates), and biometric equipment for border guards. The complexity and challenges of deploying such equipment at Border Crossing Points (BCP) should not be underestimated. Each BCP, whether it is air, land or sea based, comes with its own specific problems and constraints. Airport borders are probably the easiest to install and control, as travellers are circulating in a highly supervised environment with few luggage at most. Imagine a cruise boat disembarking a few thousands of TCN for a day-long city trip – all of whom must register in and out of the Schengen area (including their biometric data). Think about ferries across the Channel or between Italy and the Balkans – now it gets even more challenging when you must take into account passengers sitting in their vehicles.
Main challenge: time constraint
Besides from this major constraint imposed by the need for special equipment, the main challenge for national authorities and private or public operators involved in this project is its tight deadlines. By February 2022, the Entry/Exit System must go live in the entire Schengen Area. That leaves those same authorities and operators with a bit more than 12 months to develop their national portion of EES, integrate it with the NUI (National Uniform Interface, connecting the central eu-LISA EES to individual Member States), review and update the business processes for border control, train their people, and have eu-LISA audit their system. Not to mention the infrastructure works that might be required.
More than just biometrics
While its biometrics aspect may draw most of the attention, EES is not just, or not all, about biometrics. Most duties of any Ministry of Interior are impacted by this new system: border control, visa requests, immigration, and even law enforcement if we consider the creation of Central Access Point, which allows police forces to consult relevant information during inquiries. All these actors need to understand the challenges ahead of them and should begin adapting their IT systems to interface with EES. Without a global approach, EES integration at national level will get messy and will not achieve its key objectives.
Furthermore, EES is only one element of a much larger programme impacting border control and the movement of TCN across the European Union. Several projects are running in parallel and will progressively go in production in the next four years: ETIAS, the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System, updates to the Schengen (SIS II) and Visa (VIS) Information Systems, and interoperability modules such as the European Search Portal (ESP) and the Multiple Identity Detector (MID). You might be working on implementing only one of them, but the reality is you should be taking them all into consideration!
How to succeed
The success of such project will largely depend on your ability to develop a global, holistic vision, while adopting a coordinated approach at national level. An IT partner like Sopra Steria, with end-to-end capabilities from consulting and programme management to business process redesign, software development and application management is uniquely positioned to help you achieve the expected results.
Over the last decade, we have garnered a vast and in-depth experience on both sides of the equation. Not only are we working at the central level on different EU Information Systems, such as SIS II, Eurodac or the shared biometric matching engine (sBMS), but we have developed and maintained the national counterparts of those systems for multiple countries. In addition, we are providing consulting services to national authorities about the EES programme and have begun developing their national EES system. As a result, we know exactly where the many challenges and responsibilities lie.