EU considers "deep background checks" for Registered Traveler program

Published 1 November 2006

Responding to concerns about racial profiling, EU may instead develop a large-scale network linking criminal and civil data bases; a final report is not due until June, but in the meantime EU planners will move ahead with plans; privacy concerns remain an unsurmounted obstacle

Nervous at being associated with anything with even the hint of racial profling, the European Union is now seriously conisdering abandoning a system for screening travellers that seemed to discriminate based on nationality and race. The news comes on the heels of a public relations move to change the name of the EU’s Trusted Traveler program to Registered Traveler. As one report puts it, with lingering suspicion, “the implication of the old name was that European border controls intend to become more suspicious of people who are not fully paid up members of the omniscient state, which it does.” Regardless of EU motivation, the new suggested approach will rely on “deep background checks” of individual applicants and is said to be similar to border controls systems already implemented in the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and along the Chinese border with Hong Kong.

Critics of racial profiling have long argued that a race and nationality-based approach is not only contrary to western values but is ineffective and inefficient to boot. After all, the liquid bombers arrested over the summer had British passports. “Why tag nationality,” said Dr. Frank Paul, head of large-scale computer systems at the European Commission’s directorate of Justice, Freedom and Security. “It’s an abstract identity [that] has no relation to personal risk. So we’ll have to do specific background checks on individuals.” Although a Commission report is not due until next June, some details of the proposed program have emerged, and they should not surprise anyone. Using detailed background checks (one report says they will be even more vigorous than those for the US-VISIT program), EU authorities will develop a massive computer network linking imigration, police, intelligence, and civil databases. Such data sharing is currently illegal under EU law, but advocates believe that either the law will change or Chinese walls can be built to get around it.

-read more in this Mark Ballard’s The Register report []