Archive: 2017

Social Media

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If you are going to the US you use ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) to support your application. It requires personal information to see if you are eligible to travel. The online application collects biographic information and answers to important questions. Under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), it doesn’t guarantee you admission but it speeds up the process at the port of entry.

 

Social media and ESTA

 

Over the past week, the US government has introduced new ways of obtaining personal information. The online application now asks for your social media account names. It includes Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have said that they won’t deny entry to people who didn’t provide this information. Although this is currently still optional, it is only a matter of time before this is mandatory.

 

They have been consulting on this since summer and there has been a lot of criticism. Given that it has now appeared on the online form, opponents are furious. Currently there are no clear data protection guidelines on what is a mass invasion of privacy. Social media groups argue that it is a threat to freedom of expression. Various democratic think tanks suggested it would give government agencies too much power.

 

Why do they need your social media account names?

 

The government’s intentions are clear. They are collecting social media to track data about opinions, beliefs, identity and community. Certain people will be inevitable targets with Muslim communities being affected more than others. Although people currently have a choice to hand over the information, this programme is just the beginning.

 

Who is going to argue human rights with an intimidating airport officials? After several hours on an aeroplane, your priority is to get through the official process as quick as possible. Toiletries and medicines in clear bags, shoes, belts, full body scans. Security leaves you feeling dishevelled and without dignity at the best of times. So you’ll do and say anything to make the process as smooth as possible.

 

They have justified this new policy as a way of identify potential threats. They are looking to identify and deny entry to people who have links to terrorism.  The more information they have about an individual, the better the chances of catching extremists. They already scan limited amounts of social media posts but this would huge.

 

Who else will follow suit?

 

People need to travel for business, family and pleasure and in 2015 alone, the US had 77.5 million foreign visitors. The quantity of social media information the government will collect is staggering. Commentators suggest that it will be one of the largest government controlled databases of its kind.

 

Whether you agree with the US government’s policy or not, we all worry about non-official use of our data. The US is a supposed democratic and a ‘free’ society. But if it can demand our Facebook friends list to decide whether we are a security risk, what happens if this happens elsewhere? For instance, you might need to travel to a country where homosexuality is illegal. If officials spot a pattern of supporting gay rights, regardless of your sexuality, it could put your safety at risk.

 

What is the Schengen Information System

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There has been an increased interest in the Schengen Information System (SIS) recently. The tragic events in Germany has highlighted the need for sharing information across borders. Initiatives such as ETIAS and ESTA aim to improve national security. So what is the Schengen Information System?

This massive database was set up in 1995 when the EU abolished internal border controls. . It has contributed to maintaining internal security and fighting cross border crime on the external Schengen borders. Recent proposals aim to make it even more effective and efficient.

What does SIS contain?

The system contains information on individuals who don’t have permission to enter or stay in the Schengen area. It includes those who are wanted for criminal activities. It also contains information on missing persons, children at risk, and other vulnerable individuals.

It’s not just people. It holds details of objects, for example, vehicles, firearms, boats and identification documents. These may have been lost or stolen, or used to carry out a crime. Instructions detailing what action the border security should do are also included.

Who has access to SIS?

It is important that a database which contains sensitive personal information is secure. Authorities may only access the data relevant to carry out their jobs. These users include border control officials, the police, customs and excise, and the judiciary.

Europol and Eurojust have limited access but recent proposals will give them more rights. The Security Union is including more agencies. For instance, the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency, plane and boat registration bodies, and ETIAS.

How does SIS protect the information?

It is important that a database which contains personal information is secure. Recent technological advances have ensured that some of the data are sophisticated and sensitive.  It isn’t just photographs and fingerprints. Recent proposals mean that they will add palm prints and DNA profiles.

The new Data Protection Regulation will improve system security and maintenance. It introduces safeguards ensuring that data collection, processing, and access is limited to what is necessary.  Member States are liable for penalties if breaches cause damage to a person. For instance, inaccurate data or unlawful storage of data.

Future improvements

Apart from the new personal information content, and increased data protection, the security union has proposed other operational and technical improvements. They want to improve information sharing and cooperation between Member States.

Terrorism prevention is a priority so they will introduce new ‘inquiry check’. Better protection of children with a high risk of abduction will be achieved through preventive alerts.  Counterfeiting alerts will be issued on a wider range of stolen or falsified goods.

Has the system produced results?

At the end of 2013, there were just over 50 million alerts in the system. By November 2016, that number had grown to nearly 70 million. Competent authorities accessed the SIS 2.9 billion times in 2015, a billion times more than in 2014.

In reality this means that over 25,000 people were arrested. Around 72,000 serious criminals and security threats were located. And over 97,000 cases concerning stolen vehicles, misuse of documents, stolen firearms, and other lost or stolen property were solved.

The changes are expected to come into force 2021.