The Schengen Information System (SIS), a shared information and monitoring system for the European Union’s external Schengen borders, shall integrate an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) component which is going live in the coming months. Whilst this is seemingly a mundane and somewhat technocratic affair at first glance, aimed at increasing the possibility for criminal and alien detection and monitoring at borders (with integrations of the EURODAC, VIS, and EES), this project has surprising and exciting ramifications which may greatly enhance border crossing facilitation for enrolled travellers. I shall lay out the case for such innovation in three points:

Identity Beyond Paper

Whilst the initial use case for the SIS II AFIS system is limited in use and scope, this system is exciting in that it provides an avenue for the identity verification of individuals beyond their paper passport. Such an avenue for identity verification is ground-breaking for two reasons. Firstly, it leads to the possibility of eliminating doubt around the identity of a traveller who has, for whatever reason, dubious travel documents. Secondly, this provides an avenue for a common shared AFIS capacity at the shared Schengen border, leading to the potential for paperless border crossing for enrolled travellers.

Faster Traveller ID

Paper-based ID verification can be a slow process, causing potential traveller build up at border checkpoint bottlenecks. Should the SIS II AFIS capacity enter common use for general travellers, fingerprint based traveller border cross authorisation can help speed up the process of checking the confirmed identity of  a traveller, providing important efficiency gains and speeding up the process when compared to paper-based ID verification.

Overcoming Forged Documents

A key concern for border guards is the detection of falsified or erroneous documents. The vast majority of ‘successfully false’ documents being used today in the EU are thought to be in fact genuine documents emitted wrongfully on the basis of fake ‘breeder documents’ such as handwritten paper based birth certificates. Eliminated the need for paper based passport documents as proof of ID through a unique and verifiable fingerprint biometric based system builds a new and compelling hurdle to the successful use of (at least multiple) fake identities by those wishing to hide or obfuscate their true identity.

These three reasons provide a compelling reason to be excited about the SIS II AFIS component, even if the name still sounds boring! Excitingly, many hardware vendors for ABC gates are starting to announce fingerprint verification based access control, so the path seems clear to use this AFIS component for biometric verification of individuals, upon proof of concept and any necessary regulatory changes.

At LAM LHA we believe this represents a step towards tomorrow, and we wish EU-LISA the best of luck in successful implementation of this new SIS II element over the coming months!

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