The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) is the European Union's answer to the rising threat of terrorism and the increase in cross-border criminality. The system is similar to the American ESTA and is designed to pre-screen intending visitors to Europe and refuse access to those deemed to be a security, terrorist, criminal or health risk. It has also been stipulated, however, that the information held in the ETIAS Central Unit data bank may also be used as a counter-terrorism aid as part of the proposed common European Union Intelligence Agency.
The EU Intelligence Agency
Each of the 26 European Union member states operates its own intelligence programme. This may work well for a single country but sharing information with another member country is often a problematic, not to mention slow, process. As the criminal, terrorist and medical threats apply equally to all of Europe and not just one country it would make sense if all information was shared. Sharing intelligence would mean:
- Access to better and more up-to-date information
- Greater and speedier operational capabilities.
- Enhanced security against perceived or real threats.
- Faster response times.
- Savings on time and expense.
In order to achieve this goal, the European Union authorities are exploring the possible introduction of an autonomous common EU Intelligence Agency. The primary purpose of such an agency would be to combat rising terrorist activity in Europe as security forces in all EU member states would have speedy access to biometric and other identifiable information about any foreign nationals of concern. Should any red flags be raised regarding a visitor to Europe the relevant authorities can run a check through various databases including:
- EES (European Entry/Exit System)
- SIS (Schengen Information System)
- VIS (Visa Information System)
European Criminal Records and Information System
Adding the personal details and information stored in the ETIAS central database would provide a newly-formed EU Intelligence Agency with even more details pertaining to visiting non-EU nationals and further increase security according to the plan's proponents. The possibility of providing access to ETIAS is currently being explored by eu-Lisa, the agency responsible for hosting the ETIAS stored data.
Use of ETIAS Details
When applying for an ETIAS, as will soon become mandatory for non-EU passport holders wishing to visit Europe, it will be necessary to supply various personal details and information. This includes the basics such as name, address, age, gender, place of birth etc. Also included on the application form, however, are questions regarding the applicant's past criminal activity, possible terrorism connections and details of serious medical conditions or contagious diseases. The information supplied by the applicant will then be assessed by an ETIAS National Unit and permission to travel either granted or denied. There is currently no ETIAS requirement for biometric data such as fingerprints and facial or retinal scans.
As the information supplied on the application form is fairly standard it would be of limited use to the proposed common EU Intelligence Agency but first time applicants must also supply details of which country is the first destination and which, if any, other countries are on the itinerary. The ETIAS also records a traveller's past history of European destinations visited. This travel information could be of some use and it is this aspect of ETIAS that is most likely to be used as a source by the new intelligence agency.
Central and Focused
There are currently several separate security and intelligence branches of law enforcement in the European Union but none with overall power across the entirety of Europe. The EU Intelligence and Situation Centre (EU INTCEN) may be considered as the European Union's central intelligence gathering organisation but it is not a fully-fledged intelligence agency and works closely with Europol on matters of European security.
Because there is no single authority responsible for European security it is inevitable that delays occur, warning signs are missed and mistakes made. Pooling the resources of all the various EU intelligence agencies and creating a new EU Central Intelligence Agency with sole responsibility for overseeing and streamlining how information is used would appear to be the best use of all resources available and to protect the whole of Europe from potential acts of terrorism.