Again strong increase for secret searches in Europe’s largest police database

The Schengen Information System allows alerts to be issued for „discreet checks“; the persons concerned should not be informed of this if possible. The number of these Article 36 searches has been increasing significantly for years. French and British police and intelligence services are mainly responsible for this.

The number of secret alerts in the Schengen Information System (SIS II) rose sharply last year as well, writes the German Federal Ministry of the Interior. This is possible according to Article 36 of the SIS II Council Decision, which enables alerts to be issued for „discreet checks“ or „specific checks“. If the persons concerned are found within the Schengen area, they are reported to the authority issuing the alert. National police laws also permit such measures, but not across borders.

Persons with a label „specific check“ have their baggage and vehicles searched. The police authority issuing the alert will be informed of the results. In the case of a „discreet check“, no search is carried out. Instead, the interested authority is informed of where the person was found, where and with what he or she travelled and who was also in the vehicle. Both measures can be issued by the police and secret services. Article 36 distinguishes between these variants as paragraphs 2 and 3.

According to the Ministry’s reply, in 2018 European authorities searched for 155,910 persons using Article 36. In the previous year there were 129,412 persons, in 2016 96,108 persons were listed accordingly. According to the figures, „discreet checks“ clearly outweigh „specific checks“.

The strong increase in secret searches is mainly due to French authorities. According to the reply, there are currently more than 96,000 Article 36 alerts in France. In 2016 there were about 31,000 people, one year later around 79,000. Great Britain ranks second among the international alerts, but after the Brexit, the British police and secret services have to do without cross-border searches using SIS II.

Four years ago, the Article 36 subscriptions were supplemented with the value „immediate reporting“. This allows the authorities to request that they be informed as quick as possible of the person’s arrival. With two thirds of all „immediate reportings“, German police authorities are well ahead (Article 36, paragraph 2). German secret services are responsible for about a quarter of all urgent reports (Article 36, paragraph 3). It is likely that these „immediate reportings“ will also be fed into the new European Domestic Intelligence Centre in The Hague.

With the recast of the SIS II Regulations, a third search category under Article 36 has been added. From this year onwards, the authorities will be able to submit an „inquiry check“ and include information or specific questions in the alert. The kind-of-interrogation must be carried out in accordance with the law of the executing Member State. The person concerned may, for example, consult a lawyer.

In Germany, according to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, these interviews are regulated by the police laws of the Länder and the Federal Government. The answer does not rule out the possibility that German police officers may also conduct interviews issued by foreign secret services. In some EU member states, however, this is not permitted, and an „inquiry check“ automatically becomes a „discreet check“.

Image: Pedestrian border control between Poland and Czech Republic (dustedmtl, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.