updated 8/7/2007 11:43:36 AM ET 2007-08-07T15:43:36

The European Union is considering setting up an electronic travel authorization system to increase surveillance of overseas visitors traveling to the 27-nation bloc without a visa, after a similar security measure was approved in the United States last week.

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The U.S. measure, signed into law by President George W. Bush last Friday, requires travelers from western European states and some other countries participating in the U.S. visa waiver program to register online and fill out a questionnaire prior departure.

The measure is part of a law intensifying the anti-terrorism effort in the United States. Among other provisions, it requires the screening of all cargo on passenger planes within three years and sets a five-year goal of scanning all container ships for nuclear devices before they leave foreign ports — a requirement the EU considers excessive.

The EU said it first considered toughening entry requirements for overseas visitors arriving without visas a year ago after a plot to blow up as many as 10 trans-Atlantic airliners was thwarted in Britain, and that the U.S. legislation gave new impetus to the idea.

"We are considering introducing (an electronic registration system) ourselves. A final decision has not yet been taken," said Friso Roscam Abbing, spokesman for EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini.

Roscam Abbing said the EU would first have to evaluate whether such an online registration system would not unnecessarily hinder travelers and whether it would enhance the security of trans-Atlantic travelers and of the EU in general. He said it was not yet decided whether the scheme would concern only Americans or other nationals as well.

"Those are precisely the details which we will still need to consider," he said.

Australia already runs an online registration system for overseas visitors which "seems to be working rather well," Roscam Abbing said.

Jonathan Faul, a top EU justice official, met with U.S. Homeland Security deputy assistant secretary Paul Rosenzweig in Brussels on Monday to clarify what impact the U.S. online registration system will have on Europeans — many of whom have not until now needed to take any action before traveling to the United States.

The EU executive Commission plans to present a report to EU justice ministers at a meeting in Brussels on Sept. 18-19 evaluating the visa reciprocity situation between the EU and the United States. The new U.S. bill expands the visa waiver program to more EU countries, but not as many as the EU would like.

In a letter to Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff in June, Frattini said it was his "firm aim to have all EU member states participating in the U.S. visa waiver program to ensure full reciprocal visa-free travel."

The U.S. visa waiver program was created in 1988 and was originally focused on preventing illegal immigration into the country.

But since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the focus has shifted to security, and the program has been altered several times in hopes of strengthening the government's ability to detect and deter terrorists.

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