Fundamental rights concerns over new EU travel system

Proposals to create a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) should ease travel to the EU and simplify border checks. However, in its latest Opinion the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) points to various fundamental rights concerns in the system. These include the collection of sensitive personal data, who can access the data and how long the data are kept.

The European Commission’s proposes creating a new large-scale EU-wide information system that will apply to all Schengen countries. Similar to the US’ ESTA travel system, ETIAS will screen people from visa-free countries before they travel to check whether or not they can enter the EU. Border controls will still apply but should be much simpler for ETIAS-authorised travellers.

The European Parliament asked the Agency for its Opinion on the fundamental rights impact of the ETIAS proposal. Since the European Commission has not carried a comprehensive fundamental rights impact assessment, this Opinion indicates how ETIAS could affect fundamental rights. Some of the observations include the need to:

  • Embed fundamental rights into ETIAS: there should be in-built checks to ensure fundamental rights compliance. This could include fundamental rights experts sitting on screening boards, as well as handbooks to provide practical guidance.
  • Only collect data that is necessary: some of the personal data that users should provide about their health, education or employment for example appears to be unnecessary and should be further defined for some categories of data or limited to broad categories for others.
  • Prevent discriminatory profiling: predicting if travellers constitute a risk for irregular migration, security or public health is part of ETIAS. However, comparing applicant information to specific risk indicators may lead to discriminatory profiling and should be tested before implementation.
  • Review when law enforcement agencies can access ETIAS data: conditions for accessing data should be aligned with existing systems like the EU’s Eurodac fingerprinting database, and be limited to some situations such as protecting missing or trafficked children.
  • Respect the right to asylum: the proposal should consider the needs of people seeking international protection. This includes not sharing personal data with non-EU countries in case they can be identified and persecuted. The proposal to impose fines on travel operators’ for not checking authorisations before boarding also creates additional difficulties for those who hide their identity when seeking asylum and needs further review.
  • Allow for complaints: there should be a way for users to complain, appeal decisions, and amend the data in the system. This should extend to informing users about ETIAS processes through Member States embassies in visa-free countries.

This Opinion aims to raise awareness of some of the issues that require further consideration to improve overall fundamental rights compliance.

FRA issues Opinions on specific thematic topics, following requests for advice from the European Parliament, the EU Council or the European Commission. These Opinions are part of the agency's fundamental rights assistance and expertise that it provides to EU institutions and Member States.

Downloads: 

The impact on fundamental rights of the proposed Regulation on the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)

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