The evolving Schengen information system

Schengen Information System (SIS)Last December, the European Commission responded to a series of proposals in order to meet the different challenges which have been identified as priority: the phenomenon of migration and challenges to security. The proposals try to reinforce and broaden the scope of the Schengen Information System (SIS) in three aspects; the return of nationals from non-member states who reside illegally in the Union, border control, and police and judicial cooperation.[1]

The proposals, in turn, try to resolve a series of deficiencies which have been detected regarding SIS. Among the most important are the lack of standardisation when introducing alerts,[2] the lack of information relevant to some cases and the insufficient coverage of some profiles of persons who are not subject to systematic controls on the borders.[3]

The Commission, based on the report of the High-level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability (HLEG), presents a range of initiatives which may lead to substantial changes in the SIS:

  • Obligation to enter alerts when the decisions are to return. Until now, states could include an alert if entry was prohibited. With the new proposal they will be obliged to do so: nationals from non-member states (NP3) who reside illegally, the NP3 to whom entry or the authorisation to stay is denied, and those NP3 subject to extradition for penal reasons.
  • New alerts and controls. The creation of a new category of unknown wanted persons connected with criminal activity is proposed as is the expansion of an already existing category related to people who have disappeared, which would include minors at a high risk of being kidnapped by members of their families.[4]
  • Increased use of biometric data. There is a wish to reinforce the use of finger and face recognition,[5] and also include new elements like new biometric elements like the print of the palm of the hand.
  • Increase in the agencies which can make use of the SIS. Apart from each country’s national authorities, there is a wish to give access to Europol agencies, to the Coast and Border Guard of Europe and the future ETIAS unit. And also to authorities with competences in immigration and the justice system.
  • The integrity of the data and the security system of the SIS. Bearing in mind the expansion of sensitive and alert-related data, and also the number of agencies with access to this, a procedure will be developed to guarantee the integrity and security of the SIS.

Therefore, these changes, along with all the initiatives which are being fostered by European institutions, will mean that the SIS will become a database which can exceed its initial objective, the identification of people. Indeed, this concern had already appeared with the changes which were introduced in 2006.[6] All these factors have meant that the SIS can become a tool for investigating crime, combating terrorism and controlling immigration rather than one used to identify people.[7]

[1] These three proposals directed towards the SIS are part of a whole range of initiatives which pursue the same objectives: reinforce the exterior frontiers and strengthen the collaboration and exchange of information. Among the most noteworthy, the  Coast and border guard of Europe, the establishment of the EU entry/exit system (EES), the European travel information and authorisation System (ETIAS) and the modification of the Schengen Borders Code, which will oblige the member states to carry out systematic controls of people who enter and leave the Schengen zone by contrasting this with the relevant databases like the SIS and others.

[2] Meaning that, for the same person, there are a range of alerts with different content.

[3] In this case, and apart from criminal aspects, nationals from non-member states without a residence permit or with an expired permit are included.

[4]Minors who may be objected to ablation may be included.

[5] The use of facial recognition reinforces identification if it is coordinated with the proposed EU entry/exit System (EES), especially at border controls.

[6] Already in 2006, the SIS system was connected to other systems like Eurodac and Visa Information System(VIS), in order to facilitate the ability to consult any controls carried out by the police; the number of agencies with access to the database was increased, etc.

[7]This situation has already led to a debate about data protection, the use of such data and people’s fundamental rights which appear on the database.

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