Border security has always been complicated when it concerns the 28 countries that comprise the European Union (EU).  The conflict between vision and need is at the center of the ongoing debate. 

The vision of the EU for the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital between countries, is unhappily married to the need of these same countries to manage migration and maintain internal security. The European refugee and migration crisis has compounded matters “…with tens of thousands of people arriving by land and boat to Europe fleeing conflict, poverty, and disasters in the Middle East and Africa.”

With the number of people crossing borders in Europe expected to reach 887 million by 2025 (European Commission 2016 Report), threats such as unauthorized overstays, terrorism, and organized crime will only compound border challenges.  Criminals have taken notice and regularly exploit this scenario by taking advantage of borders too bogged down with issues of processing overloads, and administrative inefficiencies to protect effectively.  

The result is that transnational terrorists and members of organized crime illegally cross borders to engage in human and drug trafficking, money laundering, and the import of counterfeit or unsafe goods. Often, these crimes are facilitated by technologies such as mobile devices, the Internet, social media, and even encrypted apps.  

Border control authorities have had to rethink their strategies in order to stay ahead of criminal digital tactics. “…border control has evolved from “narrow” protection of territory by the border guard to a complex high-technology process…and a wider concept of border security with large-scale data management in cyberspace.” 

With this new perspective comes a digital horizon that demands large-scale data management and analysis to react to the dangers of a connected criminal underworld.

On the perimeters of this wild technological arena, border agencies are tasked with needing to quickly sort out and identify criminals from the rest. To accomplish this task, especially when peak activity has a negative impact on success, digital solutions have been introduced to scale, automate and speed up border procedures.

Some European countries have embraced innovative border security initiatives such as “Smart Borders” with automated border control (ABC) systems, biometrics for identity verification and satellite-assisted surveillance. While tools such as ABC may be useful, unfortunately until adoption improves these solutions will not have an impact on present-day scenarios such as the influx of “irregular” migrants flowing in from neighboring regions of the European Union.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, effective emergent border security technologies tend to receive a “knee-jerk” reaction from societies.  The controversy lives at the intersection of effective border security technology and the growing gaps between the technology, citizens, and politics.

Border agencies leveraging cutting-edge digital security must factor-in the need to safeguard individual privacy rights while protecting the common good. In addition, these agencies face other challenges such as the strict limitations of data usage that restrict certain access to border control databases.

The conclusion many seem resigned to accept is that the EU and border security will continue to be a challenging dynamic.  The diverse approach to migration in Europe from open border advocacy to illegal immigration restrictions in whatever way the law will allow has become – as it has in many countries around the globe – an unavoidable reality needing to be addressed. 

And as these border crimes continue to advance in the level of sophistication, technology will continue to be at the center of all discussion related to border security, for years to come.

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