A new report issued by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism (CCT) provides a comprehensive look at the state of implementation of a key UN Security Council Resolution on addressing the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters returning or relocating from conflict zones.
The report, “Strengthening Border Security and Information Sharing in the OSCE Region: A Parliamentary Oversight Exercise,” details more than 20 responses from parliaments on efforts at the national level to develop Advance Passenger Information (API), Passenger Name Records (PNR) and biometric data management systems, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2396. It explores efforts to develop efficient inter-agency operational frameworks for processing data at the national level and effective schemes for exchanging information at the international level.
“By improving practices on exchanging information and enhancing co-operation on border security, governments can help ensure that their citizens – and the citizens of other countries – are kept safe from violent extremists,” said CCT Chair Abid Raja (MP, Norway). “It is a grim reality that foreign terrorist fighters returning or relocating to their countries of origin, or to third countries, pose a serious threat to public safety. This OSCE PA report on border security intends to highlight progress made and inspire other countries to redouble their efforts to counter this threat, including through the identification of several promising practices.”
Makis Voridis (MP, Greece), who served as CCT Chair from 2017 to 2019 and oversaw the commission of the OSCE PA report, explained that holding governments to account for commitments they have freely agreed to is an essential task that parliamentarians are well suited for.
“As parliamentarians, we can help ensure that our governments live up to their international obligations,” Voridis said. “By asking questions of our governments about what they have done to implement commitments made at the international level, we can add real value to this process and help identify shortcomings and areas that need further attention.”
Among the report’s key findings:
- The challenges faced during the implementation of API, PNR, biometric data management systems originate from the complex and novel nature of the field. These include legal, operational as well as resource and infrastructure-related matters.
- The need to better integrate and facilitate information exchanges across different national databases, including those managed by customs, borders and law enforcement authorities, is a top priority.
- Legislation providing independent oversight mechanisms and the opportunity for citizens to redress proves critical for complying with international human rights law in the context of API, PNR and biometric information systems.
- The lack of harmonized approaches towards personal data protection and the right to privacy has the potential to complicate effective law enforcement co-operation on information sharing and border security.
The report notes that some of the most critical challenges in setting up and maintaining modern systems for API, PNR and biometrics often relate to staff expertise, human resources development and IT capabilities. IT software and hardware components present high maintenance and upgrading costs that are critical for the timely and reliable data transmission between private airlines and law enforcement authorities.
National parliaments are ideally positioned to pass comprehensive legislation and oversee the implementation of relevant counter-terrorism policies and measures on border security and information sharing, the report concludes. It recommends that governmental decrees enacted to regulate this technical field should be increasingly replaced by comprehensive legislation adopted by national parliaments to ensure wide political participation and full democratic control over the legislation.
Furthermore, governments in the OSCE region should set up clear operational frameworks to facilitate smooth inter-agency co-operation and co-ordination at the national level and co-operation should be further strengthened between national authorities and private companies involved in the implementation of modern API, PNR and biometrics (i.e. air carriers and travel agencies), the report notes.