Weighing the pros and cons of sharing information among EU borders and security systems

Interoperability between information systems for borders and security can help border and law enforcement officials thanks to fast and easy access to information about non-EU nationals entering the EU. However, as a new paper from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) shows in addition to benefits, there are also fundamental rights risks. These include using data for some purpose other than the one were designed for, unlawful access to personal data, replicating incorrect data about a given person, and children being linked to immigration offences their parents committed.

The Fundamental rights and the interoperability of EU information systems: borders and security paper shows that interoperability does not intrinsically violate fundamental rights and can help support better decision making through providing fuller information. This can improve efficiency, lead to mistakes in the systems being corrected, help identify those in need of international protection already flagged in one system as well as support the detection of missing or trafficked children.

However, the paper also underlines the need for adequate safeguards and mechanisms to protect the rights set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This includes ensuring that the information stored is accurate and access is limited only for authorised purposes by authorised staff. Given the personal nature of the data, strong data security is needed to prevent unauthorised access, hacking, and the unlawful sharing of information with third parties.

The systems should guard against sharing of inaccurate information and allow for corrections to be made. It should also ensure sensitive data such as race, ethnicity, health, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs does not lead to discriminatory profiling.

Special attention should also be paid to children. As children develop their biometric information, such as fingerprints or facial images, may change. This reduces the reliability of the information stored. Also they may have criminal records due to immigration offences carried out by their parents. This should either be decoupled or limited to offences they committed.

This paper reveals the positive and negative implications of making borders and security information systems interoperable. It was originally prepared to support the European Commission’s high-level expert group on information systems and interoperability. The group explored the legal, technical and operational aspects surrounding interoperability of information systems.