Biometric briefing

With the use of forged passports hitting the headlines recently, biometrics are the weapon of choice for governments in the battle against illegal immigration and identity fraud.

Richard Rinkens, the biometric matching system manager at the European Commission, gave the Consular Corps a briefing on how biometric technology can fix an identity to a document, in order to combat the forgery of visas.

Benefits of VIS
He also explained the functioning of the Schengen Area’s future Visa Information System (VIS), which will include a centralised biometric database that can track an individual’s immigration status from their original application at one of 3,000 consulates across the globe to any country in the Schengen area, thereby helping in the fight against multiple fraudulent asylum claims in various states, visa shopping and overstaying.

Checks at borders and in-country will also be able to access the databases of justice and home affairs ministries in some of the participating countries (data protection laws in some countries do not allow this). This will trace the movements of known criminals to combat human trafficking, terrorism and other serious crime.

Under the new system, applicants for a VIS Schengen visa will have to travel to the nearest EU consulate to give their biometric information (10 fingerprints and a facial image), which will be entered into the system and remain valid for five years.

Information is centrally stored in a database in Strasbourg, allowing checks to be made at border crossing points to ensure the person holding the biometric visa is the same individual who applied for it. At full capacity the database is expected to have 70 million biometric records, thought to be the biggest biometric database in the world.

According to Rinkens, the Schengen Area’s biometric visa programme will begin its phased roll-out at the end of 2010, starting with North Africa. The implementation phase is scheduled to take three years, although Rinkens admitted that was an ambitious target because of the many challenges involved, particularly regarding infrastructure.

All consulates would need to invest in the hardware, software and trained staff to capture biometric data. Space may also be an issue because every applicant will need to apply in person and additional time will be required for fingerprinting.

Interfacing databases between Schengen states that use different technologies is also going to be a complex task, he added.

Outsourcing a soloution?
Referring to what EU officials call the ‘Vladivostok’ problem, the new system will have a huge impact on Third Country nationals, many of whom will have to travel great distances (from, say, Vladivostok to Moscow) in order to be fingerprinted.

One solution would be for fellow Schengen consulates to assist each other, or, for broader coverage, to outsource applications to an external service provider.

Richard Rinkens briefs the DPAAL website consuls on biometrics