The use of artificial intelligence in border control has sparked a debate over ETIAS and the role AI will play in their processes: what screening technologies are involved when entering Europe? Are European authorities allowed to use facial recognition systems? What are the ethical boundaries of international security?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly becoming a part of everyday life. Most people are grateful for the email filters preventing spam from landing in their inbox or for the fastest route calculated by an online map, all of which rely on AI.

Despite being widespread throughout the western world, the use of artificial intelligence continues to be a cause for debate, particularly when it comes to facial recognition and the monitoring of an individual’s movement.

Whilst some applaud the ability of AI to offer a level of security that humans alone cannot attain, others express concerns regarding the collection and use of personal data by robotics.

This article will look at how artificial intelligence is being utilized to make European travel even safer and how AI can be used ethically to the benefit of residents and visitors.

The Ethics of AI: Where Does the European Union Stand?

As mentioned above, there has been some resistance to the use of artificial intelligence in recent years based on concerns regarding privacy and transparency.

However, when used properly and for legitimate purposes, AI is extremely useful and is helping society make advances in important areas such as healthcare and law enforcement.

The European Union has embraced machine intelligence as an unbeatable mechanism in tackling the ongoing global challenges of terrorism and human and drug trafficking whilst abiding by its own guidelines for trustworthy AI published by the Commission in April 2019.

Some of the key ethical considerations highlighted in the document address:

  • Technical robustness and safety
  • Human agency and oversight
  • Privacy and data protection
  • Societal and environmental wellbeing

European citizens and visitors are assured that AI will only be incorporated when it meets these stringent requirements.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Keep Europe Safe

This approach to Artificial Intelligence in Europe is illustrated by ETIAS, the European Travel Information and Authorization System, to be launched in 2022.

Visa waiver programs run by the US and Europe have facilitated international travel and contributed to a dramatic increase in cross-border movement in recent years.

Whilst the opportunity to explore different areas of the world is welcome, it can also pose a security risk. With third-country nationals able to cross the Schengen Area’s external borders using just a passport, identifying dangerous individuals and preventing their entry can be difficult.

As a result, the European Union has developed ETIAS, a travel authorization required by third-country nationals, to complement its visa liberalization policy.

Visitors from eligible countries will soon be required to apply for ETIAS before entering the Schengen Area.

The system will make use of large-scale IT databases to draw up an ETIAS watchlist and cross-check and verify visitor information. ETIAS will also use smart borders for an additional layer of security.

Interpol: detecting criminals using facial recognition

Interpol, the organization that facilitates global police cooperation, has long used facial recognition to identify criminals.

The effectiveness has been proven in a number of high-profile cases. In 2018 an internationally wanted murder suspect was caught after an image of the individual was compared against records held in Interpol’s facial recognition database.

Whilst the use of facial recognition for remote identification is currently only used in exceptional circumstances, the European Commission released a White Paper in February 2020 with a framework for more widespread use of trustworthy AI in the future.

Interpol is to play an important role in ETIAS. By running traveler details through their databases, third-country nationals who are wanted by overseas authorities in connection with criminal activity can be identified before they step foot on European soil.

In the future, it is possible that facial recognition could be expanded and used as a highly effective tool for stopping dangerous foreigners from entering the Schengen Area.

Biometrics, smart borders and machine intelligence

To meet the ETIAS visa waiver requirements, travelers need a biometric passport. A biometric passport contains all the biographical information found in a machine-readable document in addition to certain biometrics.

This biometric data will be used by the Entry-Exit System (EES), a key component of ETIAS, to prevent irregular migration and protect European citizens.

By registering the arrival and departure third-country nationals, EES will employ biometrics to identity overstayers and prevent identity fraud.

The future of smart borders: AI and lie detectors

Artificial Intelligence is becoming increasingly sophisticated and new systems are constantly being developed.

In recent years, several companies have started trialing technology which could soon be implemented at European borders. Two such possibilities are AI border guards and the introduction of lie detectors.

Artificially intelligent lie detectors at borders

An American company has been working on and testing robotic border guards with lie detectors. AI guards provide a more secure solution to border control than human officers thanks to their ability to detect:

  • Suspicious movement patterns
  • Pick up on body language indicating deception

By identifying unusual movement, for example, visiting the same country on many occasions, each time with different children, AI border guards can help apprehend people involved in organized crime such as human trafficking.

Another interesting development is the ability of AI to spot non-verbal communication which suggests that someone is lying.

AI technology has proven to be effective in detecting lies using cues such as facial expressions and shifting backward and forwards, something which may be difficult for humans to pick up on.

There is clearly plenty of scope for the increased use of AI at Schengen Area exterior borders which will not only boost security but also reduce waiting times: smart gates are generally faster and more efficient than the manual alternative.

Keeping Travel Data Safe and Secure

ETIAS is managed by the agency eu-LISA, which is dedicated to keeping details safe.

State-of-the-art technology will be used to encrypt personal data, protecting it from cyber-attacks and identity theft.

In line with the EU’s principle to protect the fundamental right to privacy, the information collected by ETIAS systems will only be accessed by authorized personnel, such as border authorities or police officers, when necessary.

The future of European travel is, therefore, closely linked to developments in AI. It seems clear that, rather than compromising security, digitalization will make Europe safer than ever before for residents and visitors alike.