The soon to be introduced European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) will affect millions of people across the globe and how they travel to Europe in the coming years. ETIAS will require all non-European Union citizens to have been pre-screened and approved for travel to, from, and within the greater European zone. All non-European travellers will be required to provide personal information, including medical and criminal details, and all the submitted information will have to be checked through a new ETIAS central database to determine if an individual poses a medical or security risk to the European Union. All of this personal and sensitive information will also need to be stored securely while remaining available at all times to any request or verification from any of the European Union member states border and security authorities.
In order to achieve this the European Union Commission decided in 2018 to place the information and data management systems associated with operating ETIAS in the hands of one agency called The European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice which has been simplified to eu-LISA.
History of eu-LISA
Founded in 2011, the eu-LISA agency first became operational in late 2012 with headquarters in the Estonian city of Tallinn and an operational centre based in Strasbourg, France. The agency's chief function was the management of the large IT systems and various databases deemed vital to European Union security. Among these were:
- Eurodac - A European Union database containing fingerprints of people who had illegally crossed a European border.
- SIS - The Schengen Information System was (and continues to be) the largest information sharing database regarding European border management and security.
- VIS - The Visa Information System is a precursor to the incoming ETIAS and is a centralised IT system linking consulates in countries bordering the European Union and the national systems in the various EU member states. The information received and processed, as well as fingerprint and biometric data, is used in determining whether to grant a non-EU citizen a short-stay visa or permission to travel through the Schengen Area or not.
These three traveller verification systems have since been added to and now includes ECRIS (European Criminal Records Information System), EES (Entry/Exit System) and ETIAS which is currently in the process of being rolled out. ETIAS will become the major factor in determining whether a non-EU citizen gains access to Europe and other checking systems will largely be relegated to a secondary or tertiary role but they will remain an integral part of the security checking process and all will be monitored, maintained and operated by eu-LISA.
Role of eu-LISA
The primary role of eu-LISA is to operate and manage large-scale information databases and implement new technology. As ETIAS becomes operational it will be necessary to record and keep track of countless millions of pieces of data as every ETIAS application form will contain detailed information regarding the applicant. The system will need to be secure, swift and operate smoothly in whatever European jurisdiction requires access to the stored information while also adhering strictly to all EU data protection rules. With these goals in mind the European Commission has designated the eu-LISA agency as the operator of all current security and traveller information databases and also made the agency responsible for the smooth introduction and operation of the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System.
The primary function of eu-LISA is to strengthen European security through the use of technology and provide relevant and up-to-date information regarding possible security or health risks posed by intending visitors from outside the European Union. There are three main components in providing this layer of security and protection that are the responsibility of eu-LISA:
- The efficient administration and smooth operation of state-of-the-art technological systems.
- Meeting the demands and swiftly responding to the requests and requirements of European Union member states.
- Continuously developing and improving the system and the services provided.
While maintaining and improving the current systems, eu-LISA must also adhere strictly to all regulations regarding data protection and ensure every applicant's personal information is stored safely and securely. As recently as June of 2022 eu-LISA has also signed up to the Cooperation Plan for 2022 – 2024 under whose terms the agency will provide training on the use of their IT systems to members of law enforcement agencies from within the European Union and Schengen Area.
The eu-LISA mandate was further strengthened in 2018 when the European Commission gave approval for the agency to assume control of the ETIAS and the information services associated with its maintenance and operation which basically means that eu-LISA is now responsible for EU cross-border policing and security.
ETIAS and eu-LISA
One of the primary responsibilities for eu-LISA will be the operation of the new ETIAS visa-waiver programme which is expected to commence late in 2024. Under the new system all non-EU citizens wishing to visit Europe for any purpose and for any duration must first apply for and receive approval to travel. This will be done via an online portal and this is the only method available as personal visits to an embassy or consulate will not be permitted as is the situation for visa applications at present.
The online application form will require an applicant to supply basic personal details, passport information, list of contacts as well as information pertaining to health, criminal and security matters. All information supplied will be checked and verified by a central eu-LISA database and the data stored securely whether an applicant is successful or not. When an ETIAS is approved the information pertaining to the successful can be accessed swiftly by security authorities of the country (or countries) being visited.
As applicants are pre-screened before ETIAS approval is granted the goal is to greatly reduce the risk of terrorist or criminal activity by non-EU citizens and also help limit or prevent future health crises (like the current Covid-19 pandemic) by denying persons deemed to pose a security or health threat entry to the European zone.