Dan Wright / CC-BY-2.0

A digital system for tracking people as they traverse European borders threatens privacy, civil liberties and the safety and dignity of migrants fleeing their embattled homelands, critics say.

Considering the program are the European Commission and a number of security and control companies, write Aline Fontaine and Morgane Remy at Basta! via Truthout:

Once they are interconnected, these information systems would constitute many links in a single web of control and surveillance of individuals. It would be a web instead of walls that nonetheless seeks to fulfill the same function: to remedy Europe’s problems in the face of its two major [purported] crises, the terrorist and migration threats. “Data-sharing links the two,” explained Dimitris Avramopoulos, European commissioner for migration, internal affairs and citizenship, when he unveiled the text of the Smart Borders law in April. “Our border guards, customs agents, police and judicial authorities must have access to the necessary data.”

The Commission keeps promoting this “Smart Borders” idea in spite of the aversion of certain members of Parliament. “We have already voted ‘no’ once against the PNR [passenger name record] and Smart Borders since we were skeptical of these megalomaniac projects — as much for their fiscal implications as for those resulting from a massive collection of data,” retorts Sophia in ‘t Veld, the Dutch Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and vice-chair of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. “However, these texts come back for consideration, with pressure from certain member states to vote them in.”

Private companies stand to make a lot of money by selling states the infrastructure:

The amounts at stake and manufacturers’ interests behind Smart Borders are even more hotly debated than the PNR since these new borders would necessitate the erection of special kiosks equipped with biometric tools (e-gates), which all the states included in the free circulation area would have to purchase. In France, 133 Schengen border points could be involved, including 86 airports, 37 ports and 10 train stations. Considering that the cost of each e-gate is estimated to be between 40,000 and 150,000 euros, the investment is not negligible! …

Although this system is still in the proposal phase, the appeal to defense industry giants has already been launched. “To improve European security, we need to stimulate our manufacturers!” trumpeted Armand Nachef, from the French base for the European research program Horizon 2020, on November 17 at Le Bourget. This public service representative was addressing the businessmen present for the domestic security trade show Milipol, where weapons, drones, cameras, equipment for the maintenance of order and bullet-proof vests were displayed.

Critics demand evidence that the systems would do what their proponents say they would, and point out that the mass collection of personal data threatens private life:

Are these investments drawing the contours of a safer Europe? Many doubt it. “We were presented with the PNR as a miracle cure, but it’s nothing of the kind,” declares Emmanuel Maurel, a French Socialist MEP. “Since everyone is worried, people cling to these measures of questionable effectiveness. So while murderers go by car, we create a data base on airline traffic. To know what a passenger eats, with whom he travels, serves no purpose. It would be better to invest in human intelligence than in such an outsized system.”

With respect to Smart Borders, the Member of Parliament and Vice-President of the Greens-European Free Alliance, Ska Keller, is even more trenchant: “I am waiting to know what problem this Smart Borders idea is supposed to solve. The European Commission is incapable of telling us. Moreover, we cannot suspect every European citizen of being a terrorist, but we allow ourselves to do so with others? It’s not okay. Besides, staying longer in a place [i.e. within the Schengen area] does not necessarily point to criminal motives.” …

Another concern: respect for the numerous data on citizens collected this way. How will the data be used? Where is the data stored? For how long? When it opposed the PNR and Smart Borders proposals the first time, the European Parliament made clear to the Commission that it would not vote in those texts as long as there were no precise answers to these questions.

“Above all,” write Fontaine and Remy, “a larger question remains:”

Aren’t “smart borders” a step toward a “pan-European system of surveillance,” as Chris Jones, a member of the NGO Statewatch fears? The database on travelers will be huge, including everything from their movements in the Schengen area to their biometric data, all — depending on the vote of European MPs — possibly accessible by national police forces, Europol and Frontex! This comes at the risk of establishing a “not very appealing society,” warns Socialist MEP Maurel. When the Smart Borders text is voted on between now and the end of the year, will the European Parliament oppose it again?

Read more.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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