Travellers in Europe to face summer of scrutiny

Travellers in Europe to face summer of scrutiny
3 min read
13 March, 2015
Europe is heading towards greater security regulations in air travel, with as-yet-unspecified "risk indicators" to identify passengers warranting further investigation.
'A new era of travel sureveillance' is coming into force in Europe [Getty]
European countries are going to shine the spotlight on travellers who meet criteria indicating they could be "terrorists" or "Muslim foreign fighters".

The "risk indicators" to be used to single out suspected militants are still being drafted by officials, but the policy will come into effect in June.

The decision, which was announced by Rihards Kozlovskis, Latvia's interior minister, will apply throughout the 26-nation Schengen area, to which 22 EU member states belong.

Kozlovskis refused to give details whether the "risk indicators" would include a person's appearance, religion or any books they may carrying, but made clear that Europeans traveling to take part in the combat being waged in Iraq and Syria were the principle target.

     We can't just sit back and wait till the next strike happens.
- Rihards Kozlovskis, foreign minister of Latvia

"The number of foreign fighters, unfortunately, keeps increasing quite dramatically," Kozlovskis said.

"We have to do something to limit the movement of such persons. Unfortunately they are EU citizens, mostly."

EU officials have said the criteria employed to flag travellers probably will not involve ethnic origin or related factors but would include their destination or complete itinerary.

Greater cooperation

European ministers also ordered the creation of a special unit inside Europol, the bloc's agency for police cooperation, that will, from July, work with internet service providers to eliminate extremist content from websites and social media.

Europol was recently granted new powers to collect information on people who have never been convicted of a criminal offence.

The organisation's Director-General Rob Wainwright recently cited "3,000 to 5,000 EU nationals" as potential fighters among the ranks of extremist groups fighting primarily in Syria and Iraq.

The murderous attacks on the streets of Paris in January brought to the fore the threat of Islamic extremists within Europe who are either inspired by the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis) or have had direct involvement in the conflicts ravaging much of the Arab world.

The Kouachi brothers, who killed 12 people during their rampage in Paris, were already known to the authorities - as was the infamous masked executioner used by IS in several of its beheading videos, recently identified as UK citizen Muhammad Emwazi.

These security failings, and others, have instigated contentious debate over the role of the intelligence and security services. The response across much of Europe has been towards tougher legislation and greater surveillance, with several countries, including the UK and France adopting more pervasive "anti-terrorism" legislation.

The UK, although not part of the Schengen area, has been a major advocate of the establishment of new databases of passenger records to monitor all air travel in or out and within Europe. 

"We can't just sit back and wait till the next strike happens," Kozlovskis said.

The meeting also considered a proposal that everyone entering or leaving the Schengen area should have their passports checked electronically against databases, but no follow-up action was taken, he revealed.

In 2014, an estimated 564 million travelers entered or left the Schengen zone, inside which people can move freely from country to country without immigration or customs controls.