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EC plans biometric border checks

European Commission proposed biometric checks include face screening and automated security checks.

Visitors to Europe will face biometric screening and automated security checks under proposals for a shake-up of EU border controls.

Under plans to strengthen checks at European borders laid out by the European Commission, international travelers would also have their stay logged and monitored by an electronic system, which could become operational by 2015.

The system would alert authorities to persons overstaying the length of their visa.

Biometric data would be submitted by travelers from outside the EU when applying for a visa, while those not needing a permit would be checked on arrival.

Automated border-control systems and guards would be able to check visitors' identities using the biometric data, with EU and trusted travelers from outside the EU able to speed up the process by using automated gates.

The Commission is also investigating the possibility of requiring electronic authorization for outside travelers as an alternative to requiring a visa.

From 2009, all EU passports will feature a digital fingerprint and photograph and, from 2011, non-EU citizens who apply for a visa will have to give their biometric details.

The measures would apply to the 24 nations within the EU's Schengen zone for passport-free travel. All EU states except Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and the U.K. are part of the border-free area, to which non-EU members Norway and Iceland also belong. The U.K. is believed to be studying whether to opt into the arrangements.

The Commission is also looking at creating a European border surveillance system to help prevent unauthorized border crossings, reduce the number of illegal immigrants dying at sea, and reduce cross-border crime within the EU.

The Commission said the system would use "state-of-the-art technology" for border-surveillance purposes and focus first on the Mediterranean Sea, the Canary Islands, and the Black Sea before being widened to the "whole maritime domain" of the EU.

Data gathered for the system would be protected by security regulations and would be kept for no longer than five years.

Nick Heath of reported from London.