US Demands Biometric Data Transfers for Visa-Free Entry

Visa-free entry: USA expect "systematic transfers" of biometric data

A classified report by the Swedish Presidency of the EU Council has revealed that, from 2027, the US expects “continuous and systematic transfers” of data on biometric features, such as fingerprints, for visa-free entry from the EU. This is part of the “Partnership for Enhanced Border Protection” that the US government has demanded, which will become a new condition for participation in the Visa Waiver Program. The data transfers must comply with the General Data Protection Regulation and related Police and Judiciary Directive.

The report highlights that the “Enhanced Border Security Partnership” raises many questions, including “data protection, the modalities of the biometric query, the interaction of the competences of the EU and the Member States in the areas in question, and the lack of complete reciprocity of the data to be exchanged.” Many EU countries are concerned that this is less of a mutual exchange and more of a collection programme by Washington.

The EU Commission has decided to “decouple the exchange of information from visa policy issues.” It has confirmed that bilateral negotiations between the Member States and the USA could be started as long as they only concern potential data transfers and not general visa matters. The Commission is currently preparing a draft Council decision that would allow talks to start on an EU-US Enhanced Border Security Partnership agreement.

However, the lack of transparency and democratic debate around the plan has been criticised by civil rights organisation Statewatch. The community is currently working towards virtually linking extensive IT systems for biometric facial images and fingerprints as part of the “Smart Borders” program. The European Court of Justice has already ruled that the US does not offer adequate protection for the privacy of non-citizens. The fact that the discussions are taking place in secret is deemed to be even more concerning.

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