As many Americans already know, starting from late 2022 third-country nationals will need to apply for an ETIAS electronic authorization before they can enter the Schengen area.
The new regulations will apply to U.S. citizens too, who will not lose their visa-free status for Europe (as to say, they will not need a Schengen visa) but will be obliged to register with ETIAS prior to departure.
ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) is being implemented to protect the safety of Europeans and foreigners on European soil. It is also expected to speed up border checks at Schengen points of entry, meaning less queuing for tourists at the airport, port, or land crossing of their choice.
Both during the application process process and at the border, the ETIAS system will collect relevant data from international travelers. It is natural for Americans to wonder how this information will be used and kept safe by the European authorities.
How Will ETIAS Collect Personal Information?
The main concern of European policymakers is the safety of their citizens and everyone residing in or visiting the continent. ETIAS will help them do that by collecting data in 2 different ways:
- During the application process. All travelers are asked to complete an online form during the application that asks them for some personal, contact, and passport information. They may also have to answer some security-related questions.
- At the border. Thanks to smart passport gates, document checks at European crossing points will soon be completely automated. The information provided by electronic passports will be added to that included in the application and give European law enforcement details of the movements of third-country nationals in and out of the Schengen area.
Why is this data being collected?
The European authorities expect ETIAS to improve security and travel across Europe on several levels.
Firstly, by electronically checking the identity and passage of foreigners, law enforcement will have access to essential information that will help them fight international crime such as:
- Identity theft
- Human and drug trafficking
- Illegal immigration
Data will be stored in secure systems that will be accessible to international Schengen police agencies in real time. That means faster response and better international cooperation in crime prevention in Europe.
Finally, by knowing in advance the number of travelers expected to reach a certain entry point on a specific date, immigration officials (coordinated by the European border control agency Frontex) will be able to better satisfy the demand at the border meaning quicker and more hassle-free entry for foreigners.
How Will U.S. Traveler Data Be Stored and Accessed?
Large-scale IT systems in Europe are managed by the agency eu-LISA that will oversee the implementation ofthe ETIAS system and its database. State-of-the-art technology used by eu-LISA will encrypt and store ETIAS traveler information securely.
The data provided by U.S. ETIAS holders will only be accessed by authorized personnel such as border control, immigration, and police officers.
The details submitted by U.S. travelers will be crossed-checked against several security databases such as the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), EUROPOL, and the Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database.
This will allow European officials to create an ETIAS watchlist and the same time, make sure that individuals admitted into the Schengen zone are not wanted for arrest by other agencies or have been convicted of very serious crimes and potentially represent a threat to the safety of European people.
This shouldn’t deter Americans with minor criminal convictions to apply for ETIAS. There is no absolute rule regarding admission in these cases. Most people will be judged as not a threat to European security and therefore, will be able to obtain the ETIAS visa waiver to enter the Schengen territory.