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Could it be a platform for greater security, freedom and justice in the EU?

As the launch of the EU’s Entry-Exit System (EES) gets closer, people are starting to look for more details about the system and how it will operate. One detail that hasn’t received much attention (but in my opinion should) is the National Uniform Interface, or the “NUI”.

We know that the NUI will be the interface connecting the EES Central System to individual member states. But we have very little information about what the integration of the interface will look like and its possible future uses. If it’s properly designed, the interface will help to reduce the risk and cost for member states of integrating with the EES Central System, while promoting a vision of interoperability for EU Central Systems in the long-term.

But the benefits of the NUI could go way beyond this. In fact, I think the NUI could be the single most important step in enabling true interoperability between member states and agencies. And that would powerfully reinforce the establishment of an area of freedom, security and justice in the EU.

To explain the impact the NUI could have, a metaphor might be useful here. If you were looking for a mobile device just to make calls, you might choose a “dumbphone” with a monochrome LCD screen, a keypad and little else. On the other hand, if you also expected to use that mobile device to access the internet, check email and download various apps, you’d look for a more general-purpose smartphone with a touchscreen and features such as GPS, camera etc.

If you think about the NUI in the same way, the EES would be just one app on it. You would expect to add more – such as ETIAS, European Search Portal (ESP), Common Identity Repository, etc. – to the same NUI in the future. All these would serve the goal of enabling secure and standardised connections between the Central Systems and the member states’ national border infrastructures.

Taking the capabilities of the NUI even further, it could be used to support service requests from Border Control Points with manual inspection stations and mobile inspection devices. Equally, it could work with automated systems such as eGates and kiosks. Where member states have national entry-exit systems, the NUI offers a standardised way to access central services. For others, the NUI will act as a gateway to Central Entry-Exit System services. In both cases a fault-tolerant NUI will ensure that requests are managed and maintained until the corresponding responses are properly received.

Potential to expand NUI capabilities

To develop the NUI as a scalable and flexible platform, it’s important to think about the general capabilities and standards that it should support. Some of these are shown below:

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Of course, these are just a few of many capabilities possible. What’s most important is that the infrastructure of the NUI has the ability to support the addition of new programs.

The Time to Act is Now

So as member states prepare for what’s coming over the next 6-12 months, what are some of the questions they should ask?  I think the following would be useful places to start:

  1. What do our border processes currently look like and where will EES fit into the bigger picture? Where can innovative technologies help fill the gaps?
  2. What type of messages and formats do we want to standardise for message exchange with other law enforcement authorities?
  3. What type of governance and support mechanisms will satisfy the needs of border guards and law enforcement officers (i.e., the users)?
  4. What does our roadmap for EES look like and when do we need to test integration with central systems?
  5. What type of security challenges should we address before we start connecting our national systems to the NUI?
  6. What type of monitoring, auditing and operational standards should we put in place to successfully support the NUI deployment in our IT landscape?

As more information emerges about the NUI’s exact specifications, we’ll continue to develop and refine these recommendations. But what matters most right now is that member states and EU institutions begin thinking about the art of the possible and laying down the foundations for what the NUI platform could and should achieve over the next few years.

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