The European Commission took a big step toward creating an enhanced pan-European system of security and surveillance Wednesday when it launched a proposal to set up a new independent agency to manage massive IT systems used by border control authorities.
The so-far-unnamed agency will initially house passport, visa and fingerprint databases from across the E.U., but later it will take control of other IT systems, such as ones that record all entry and exit movements of individuals. Biometric data will also be added to the existing databases, said a Commission official who asked not to be named.
Civil liberties groups have warned that EU security officials are seeking to harness a digital tsunami of new information technology. They fear that the EU is building an increasingly sophisticated security machine that reaches across the 27 EU countries.
But the Commission insists the new agency will not itself have access to any of the information in the databases it manages.
"It will have access to technical data needed for operational purposes and it will draw up statistics on, for example, illegal immigrants, as the databases do at present, but it won't have access to the details in the data, and nor will it connect the information from the separate databases into one system," the person said.
The three existing databases that will initially be the focus of the new agency will be SISii – the second generation Schengen Information System containing passport data; the visa information system (VIS); and EURODAC, an IT system for comparing fingerprints of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.
Justice commissioner Jacques Barrot said in a statement that the purpose of the agency is "to simplify the current situation by establishing a single management structure for several large-scale IT systems in the areas of freedom, security and justice."
The agency should become operational in 2012, assuming the plan gets political backing from the 27 national governments and the European Parliament, the Commission said in the statement.
The start-up costs are estimated at €113 million (£95.9m) to be spent over three years from 2010. Running costs of the agency include software and hardware management, which are expected to cost 10 million euros per year.
"No calls for tender will be published until there is political agreement, which we expect next year. We will probably look for suppliers for more than one year," the Commission official said, adding that a 50 million IT contract for five years is a possibility.