How can emerging technologies help the European Union create frictionless borders?

The phrase “borders of the future” may well conjure up images like those in the science fiction TV series, Altered Carbon, with flying cars and iris recognition. At the current rate of technological advancement, these may not seem so far-fetched, but they certainly won’t become reality for several years. That being said, there is no reason for us to sit back and wait for greater innovation when it comes to border management, as there is a lot that can already be done in this in-between zone.

Arguably, the need for new technologies has never been greater. Europe is facing an unprecedented number of border challenges, making the swift adoption of emerging border technologies all the more important.

From migration to Brexit, borders are reshaping the European Union (EU) as we know it

In June, the European Commission released its newest plan for the 2021-27 EU budget with plans to almost triple the amount of money allocated for border services. With border agencies facing crucial staffing shortages and resource demands, an increase in innovative technologies will be the most efficient way for agencies to tackle these issues.

In this article, we explore how emerging technologies can promote safer and smarter EU borders. We will also examine the intermediate steps of what needs to be done now to support us when building the borders of the future.

Blockchain at the Border

Becoming ever more present in our vernacular, blockchain technology can be used for identity verification or fully digitized biometric passports. Already defined as an important element of the EU’s Smart Borders Package, we expect to see greater moves toward fully digitalized borders in the coming years.

Change is also coming at the local level. For example, the City of Antwerp has started to explore the possibilities of storing digital identities on smartphones. This digital ID could be synchronized with a digital passport and used at a digital border. Accenture has done similar research on a global digital identity management solution in partnership with the United Nations under the ID2020 Programme.

Risk Profiling

With increased radicalization being seen across social media, advanced analytics and predictive modeling could be the key to providing border agents with a personalized risk assessment of all travelers before they reach the border. One early version of this technology is the EU Passenger Name Record directive, which laid the foundations for information sharing between airlines and Schengen countries. Many EU Member States are now exploring the possibility of expanding this to incorporate passengers’ social media profiles to improve the accuracy of risk assessment.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) could take this one step further. Because AI can remember and process faces in an exponentially more efficient way than humans can, it could be used to identify persons of interest or suspicious cargo the moment they cross the border. This would reduce the number of on-the-ground border guards that are needed, who could then be reallocated to areas that require uniquely human attention.

Visa Processing

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) could be used to lighten the load of overburdened government employees in the processing of visa applications, freeing up their time to focus on more value-adding work. This could also be extended to the management of asylum and permanent residency applications, which has put government agencies under increasing pressure in recent years.

Internet of Things

Aside from stand-alone applications of technology at the border, technology can also increase end-to-end border management.

Via the Internet of Things, governments will be able to better monitor cargo and track passenger journeys from start to finish.

For example, Germany’s Hamburg Port Authority has embedded sensors in commercial vehicles, containers, bridges and roadways to collect data on cargo and vehicle crossings. This data is then connected to port workers’ mobile devices and fed into schedules, which enables respective road authorities to channel incoming and outgoing vehicle traffic more efficiently.

This technology can also be used for travelers. In partnership with the World Economic Forum, Accenture published a study on what this could look like in passenger travel, under the so-called “Known Traveler Digital Identity” program.

Management of asylum seekers

In addition to improving passenger journeys, analytics and biometrics could help in refugee management — particularly in Europe — where some of the world’s most advanced border-protection technologies are currently being tested to protect borders and asylum seekers alike.

Accenture has been working with UNHCR to develop a Biometric Identity Management system (BIMS) that rapidly registers and verifies the identities of refugees, ensuring that the right people receive assistance where and when they need it.

These five examples are just a few of the many ways that emerging technologies can help improve borders today. Rather than jumping to the end vision of what we want borders to look like in the distant future, it’s time to lay the foundations and build the infrastructure for further digitization so that we can continue working towards a future of frictionless borders.  

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