Washington is currently exerting tremendous pressure on the European Union. For example, the U.S. government is demanding that all EU member states and other countries make all their databases with registered biometric personal data available. Failure to do so could have consequences that are likely to make it more difficult to enter the US in particular.
Reintroduction of visa requirement is on the cards
For EU citizens, entry into the United States has been exceedingly convenient for several decades. Thus, they can enter the land of opportunity without a special visa. The only requirement is that one does not stay longer than 90 days in the country and remains in the country only for professional or tourist purposes. Of course, this also applies to German citizens. Already in 2006 a tightening of the regulation took place. Since that year, visitors to the U.S. have also had to carry a passport that contains basic biometric data about the person.
On top of that, the U.S. registers fingerprint data of vacationers in addition to photographs of their faces every time they enter the country. This added regulation is now being tightened even further. Without further ado, the USA no longer wants to collect only relevant personal data itself. In addition, the US government now wants access to the relevant databases of EU member states. The Washington-based government has now communicated this to the countries concerned in a letter of request.
More cooperation on border security
What at first glance may sound like a serious request is, according to statements by the U.S., intended in particular to ensure a growing partnership in the area of border security. This cooperation, known as the Enhanced Border Security Partnership (EBSP), has not only been put to EU members by the U.S. government, which is based in Washington. The U.S. Embassy in Berlin, for example, has also made a corresponding request to the German government. The Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD), who is responsible for this, confirmed this when asked by the parliament.
In its response, the federal ministry said:
“Essentially, this is probably to enable, among other things, an exchange of biometric data, including travelers”
Unfortunately, not much can be read out of this statement. This is not really surprising, since the information is probably still relatively fresh even for the Ministry of the Interior. Accordingly, detailed regulations should still be clarified. In the context of the answer, the ministry also commented on a possible start of the regulation. Here, the year 2027 is planned.
Details still unknown
It almost seems as if so far we only know from when the new regulation is to come into force. After all, important data on exactly which databases are to be included in the regulation are still missing at the moment, in particular. The so-called INPOL files are likely to be particularly exciting for the U.S. border authorities. These are collected fingerprints that are intended to facilitate the work of the police in Germany in particular. The scope of the database is extremely extensive, with information on almost 5.5 million people. Since not only the data of criminals, but also asylum seekers are stored here, it is more than questionable, however, whether these may be accessed by the U.S. authorities without further ado.
Access to fingerprints already possible
Incidentally, it is by no means as if the U.S. cannot already access corresponding data sets. In particular, access to fingerprints stored in Germany is already possible. However, strict conditions must be met for this. Accordingly, the U.S. authorities may only access the data if there is a “serious threat to public security.” However, the access rights in this case go even further. In addition to biometric data, Germany would even release DNA data if a corresponding case exists. To make access as uncomplicated as possible in an emergency, an interface has also been defined. This will result in an exchange of data between the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
This agreement is reciprocal, which is why the German police authority also benefits from it. But there is a crucial difference between the current arrangement and the amendment demanded by the United States. After all, at present, a request must first be made in order to access the relevant data. Direct access is not possible. This is set to change. Thus, starting in 2027, U.S. authorities would be able to directly access biometric data of EU citizens without informing the country concerned. While this would make it much easier to check travelers, it also represents a sensitive encroachment on the data protection rights of those affected.
Israel has already agreed
While the EU itself wants to consult on the issue first, another U.S. partner already seems to be much further along. Namely, Israel has abruptly agreed to the U.S. government’s demands. At least that is what the US Department of Homeland Security says. This is quite interesting. After all, until now Israel had no place on the coveted list of participants in the so-called “Visa Waiver Program”. Thus it overtakes quasi the forty states, which are made at present outside, if it concerns the compulsion of a visa.
Although the U.S. order targeted every single state from the program, the EU wants to agree on a common response in this regard. This is a bit surprising, as it means the EU could actually give the U.S. more access rights than are being requested. After all, the collected EU databases are even more valuable than those of the individual states. However, since the U.S. has also sent a written notice to this effect to the EU Commission itself, this could well have been intended on the part of the U.S. government.
EU sets its sights on common database
The European Union also clearly wants to pull together in the area of relevant data storage. This applies in particular to databases containing biometric personal data. To make this as uncomplicated as possible, the confederation of states is also relying on some biometric systems. So far, these have been used in particular to monitor the applications of asylum seekers. Apart from the so-called Eurodac database, which contains around 6.5 million sheets of fingerprints, there is also the far more extensive Visa Information System, which applies throughout the European Union. This comprises data relevant to the issuance of visas, which are stored in almost 55 million data records. Since recently, this has included more than just fingerprints.
The extensive database, which is used within the EU, also includes facial images of travelers. And there are likely to be a few more data records to come. After all, the obligation to provide a facial image along with fingerprints when entering or leaving the country at an external border of the European Union is to come into force as early as 2023. It is probably also this extensive biometric memory that could be of interest to the USA. One does not necessarily have to assume that there are bad intentions behind the rapidly growing access possibilities. Anyone who has ever entered the USA knows how time-consuming the whole procedure can be. The idea of a far less complicated, because shorter procedure, sounds tempting.
EU may want to use ace up sleeve
With the new extent of the documentation, which the EU wants to initiate from 2023, a considerable database should probably be created. Here it becomes clear why the EU apparently wants to share its data sets in their entirety with the US. After all, it is also very attractive for the EU to be allowed to access the large biometric databases of the United States. Since the conversation between the EU and the U.S. on biometric data so far explicitly talks about an “exchange,” it is clear that both sides could benefit.
Pressure in Germany is great
Even if the EU wants to pull together on this issue, each EU member is still sovereign to make a decision on the exchange of corresponding biometric databases. Given the scope of the data exchange, a heated debate is soon likely to erupt in this country. After all, accessing biometric data of travelers with the blessing of the EBSP would presumably be easier for the U.S. than accessing databases of German police authorities that contain, among other things, information on criminals. This presents a confusing discrepancy. But the pressure on the German government is high. After all, if no agreement is reached with the U.S., the worst-case scenario could be expulsion from the coveted visa waiver program. This would again mean that cumbersome visa applications would inevitably be linked to every trip to the USA. We are curious to see how the cooperation between the border authorities will develop.