Biometric Surveillance at European Borders Represents a Controversial Prospect

Politics - November 26, 2023

The Development of New Methods and New Technologies, Often Defined as Invasive for Border Access Control, is a Topic that has Sparked Heated Debate, Especially in Recent Weeks.

While European authorities argue that these systems improve security and simplify border controls, many
human rights groups and activists fear that the growing spread of biometric technology could threaten
citizens’ privacy and lead to serious human rights abuses. Biometric technologies include facial recognition,
fingerprinting, iris scanning and other techniques that allow unique identification of a person. These
technologies offer a number of advantages in border control operations by helping to more quickly identify
people with criminal records or known for illegal activities, improving border security. Border biometric
technologies also make it possible to automate entry controls, reducing waiting times and simplifying the
process of entering and exiting the country.
However, while these benefits are indisputable, it is important to also examine the risks and concerns
related to biometric border surveillance as the widespread use of such technologies could undermine
people’s privacy as their biometric data is collected, stored and shared by border authorities, raising
concerns about unauthorized access, data theft or abuse by authorities. Biometric surveillance could be
misused for mass control purposes or political goals, with the risk of discriminating against or persecuting
specific groups. Biometric technologies are not foolproof and can generate false positives or false negatives
leading, for example, to the misidentification of innocent individuals or the entry of unauthorized persons.
The lack of clear and uniform regulations at European and international level can lead to excessive use of
biometric surveillance without due transparency and control. Biometric surveillance at Europe’s borders
has significant implications for human rights which many argue are being violated in contravention of the
European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Furthermore, the
indiscriminate use of biometric technologies can threaten the right to personal liberty and the right to a fair
and just trial as identification based on facial recognition could also lead to arbitrary detentions or
miscarriages of justice.
Some human rights groups argue that biometric surveillance can also lead to discrimination and unjustified
profiling as facial recognition could be used to identify and monitor specific ethnic or religious groups,
creating divisions between communities and fuelling social tensions. At the European level, the General
Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides a regulatory framework also relating to the collection of
biometric data without directly addressing the use of biometric technologies at borders, and many believe
that more specific legislation is needed. The European Commission has presented a draft regulation on
surveillance at the European Union’s external borders, known as the Entry-Exit System (EES), which involves
the use of facial recognition and fingerprints to record travellers’ data. However, even this method has
been the subject of criticism due to the risk of abuse by the various bodies responsible for control.
Some European courts have issued rulings limiting the use of facial recognition, recognizing the privacy
risks. With new technologies for border control, there are however clear advantages in improving security
and simplifying procedures, but it is essential to address the risks and concerns associated with the
widespread use of the new devices. The key to balancing security with respect for human rights is adequate
regulation and transparency in the use of biometric technologies at borders. Regulatory efforts must
ensure that biometric surveillance is subject to rigorous controls, that data is protected and that
fundamental rights are respected. The advantages brought by technological progress must be integrated into the European constitution so that they can be used without endangering the fundamental rights of
every citizen.

Alessandro Fiorentino