Since January 2018, the Belgian Passenger Information Unit has been processing and storing data on passengers travelling trough international transport. Its responsibility? Analysing passenger data in the fight against terrorism and serious and organised crime.
It was one of the first units to become operational in Europe and works with a unique multidisciplinary team. This team is made up of analysts from the FPS Interior, secondees from the Police, State Security, the General Intelligence and Security Service and the General Administration of Customs and Excise. But lawyers, people responsible for relations with the carriers and people responsible for the administration are also part of the team.
By collecting the data of passengers in one database, BelPIU can link a lot of information. This reinforces cooperation between the competent services in the fight against terrorism and serious crime (e.g. drug trafficking, human trafficking, child abduction, cybercrime, counterfeiting, theft, industrial espionage, etc.)
How does it work
BelPIU started the collection and processing of passenger data in cooperation with the airline industry. This sector alone represents 35.5 million people per year (in 2019) travelling from, to or through Belgium, both within and outside the European Union. Since the end of 2021, BelPIU collects passenger data from 94% of international air traffic.
Thanks to the link with the airlines and a process carried out in close cooperation with the industry, the data is continuously transmitted to the database. The data is transmitted 48 hours before each flight and also at the time of boarding.
The BelPIU operational team analyses the data in real time on the basis of criteria defined beforehand in the databases of the competent services. Searches in the past may be conducted at the request of public prosecutors, investigating judges, the General Administration of Customs and Excise and the heads of State Security and the General Intelligence and Security Services.
New initiatives are emerging in the EU, including the European Travel Information and Authorisation System Regulation (2018/1240), which introduces new obligations for visa-exempt third-country nationals. They will have to fill in an online form with their personal information (surname, first name, date of birth, nationality, travel document, job, education, etc.). These data will be matched with European databases (SIS, VIS, EES, ECRIS-TCN, Europol, Interpol), risk indicators (security, migration and health) and the ETIAS watch list.
Most travel authorisations will be granted automatically. Only those files on which the check reveals a positive match will be processed manually. A risk assessment on each of these files will be carried out by the ETIAS national units, such as BelENU.
The ETIAS system is expected to be operational in May 2023.