New investigative tools: German police receives 78 million euros for Schengen Information System

Three new EU regulations significantly expand the possibilities of the largest European police database. Four different biometric data can now be entered in SIS II. The number of storages and searches is once again increasing significantly. German authorities are among the power users.

The storage of data in the Schengen Information System (SIS II) continues to increase. This was written by Hans-Georg Engelke, State Secretary in the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, in response to a parliamentary question. According to the report almost 90 million people and objects were listed in Europe’s largest police database as of 1st January. In 2018 there were 82 million, in 2017 about 76 million. The current number of wanted persons, at around 983,000, is the smaller part of all alerts. One tenth of these entries come from Germany, and this number has also risen significantly.

The SIS II is also being given new functions. To this end, the European Union adopted three new regulations just over a year ago. They provide 26 participating EU states, as well as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, with new categories of alerts. For example, decisions on the return of „illegally staying“ third-country nationals can soon be entered into SIS II. The storage of entry bans following an executed deportation will also become mandatory. The list of objects that can be searched for using SIS II has also been extended.

Search for fingerprints and palm prints

Children can be „preventively“ entered in the SIS if they are at risk of being abducted by one of their parents. There are also new categories of children and vulnerable persons who should be prevented from travelling for their own protection. This concerns, for example, minors who are threatened with forced marriage or genital mutilation. In the case of trafficking in human beings, the measure can also be applied to adults.

In future, the SIS may also be searched with fingerprints or palm prints of unknown suspects. For this purpose, the EU Commission had activated a „Automated Fingerprint Identification System“ (AFIS) two years ago. Its introduction is not mandatory until the end of 2021, but the system is already being used by authorities from ten SIS member states. A year ago there were only six participants.

Compared to the time AFIS was set up two years ago, the number of „fingerprint sheets“ stored there has tripled to around 273,000. Of these, 56,227 are from German criminal police authorities. The number of searches has also increased significantly. In 2019, the German authorities alone achieved more than 9,000 „hits“; this number has approximately quadrupled compared to the previous year. The President of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), Holger Münch, therefore describes the new investigation measure as „very successful“.

Storage of facial images and DNA data

If no match is found, in case of serious crime or „terrorist incidents“ the fingerprints can also be entered as a warrant in the SIS II. If another police authority enters the same biometric data, the authority issuing the alert receives a message. However, this function has not yet been implemented. According to Article 79 of the underlying Regulation (EU) 2018/1862, the EU Commission must set the date for the start within the next two years. Currently, eu-LISA, the agency responsible for SIS II for the operational management of large-scale IT systems, is investigating whether the technical requirements are met at all national contact points (the so-called SIRENE Bureaux).

In addition to fingerprints, facial images and DNA profiles can now be stored in SIS II as additional biometric data. This is also covered by the new regulation (EU) 2018/1862. However, they are at present not searchable, but are used for “ identification purposes“. Currently, photographs of 63,447 persons are stored in SIS II. The German government does not provide any information on the number of DNA data already stored. According to the corresponding Regulation 2018/1862, these data are to be processed only for the purpose of identifying „missing persons in need of protection and particularly missing children“.

Access for Frontex and Europol

Finally, the scope of authorities authorised to access SIS II will be extended. The border agency Frontex and the police agency Europol will have access to searches of all categories. Europol can also exchange additional information with the SIRENE Bureaux of the Member States. The authorities of the SIS Member States must inform Europol of hits after a person has been sought in their own police IT system in connection with a terrorist offence. The European Counter-Terrorism Centre (ECTC) within Europol then checks whether further information is available in its own work files.

It is now also possible to enter in the SIS II alerts based on, or even inspired by, information from third countries. The foreign authorities need only find a SIS II participant to complete the entry. It is unclear how this new function will be used; the German Ministry of the Interior is not responding to the question. It is therefore not possible to determine the number of foreign alerts, nor which third countries make use of it.

New „European Search Portal“

At the German Federal Criminal Police Office, the implementation of the three new SIS regulations is known as „Project SIS 3.0“. The German Government has estimated that this will cost around 68.5 million euros by 2024. The Ministry of Interior also intends to call on a total of ten million euro from the European Union. The funds will come from the Internal Security Fund (ISF), the final endowment of which is currently being negotiated between Parliament and the Council in the Multi-Annual Financial Framework.

Other costs will be incurred in the context of the „Interoperability“ project, which will reconfigure the information systems of the European Union. The fingerprints and facial images stored in SIS II, the Visa Information System (VIS) and the Eurodac fingerprint file will be stored together with the corresponding personal data in a „Common Identity Repository“.

At EU level, the project is to cost 32 million euros, with further expenditure on national connections to be borne by the Member States. Tens of thousands of civil servants in the European Union will then be able to use a new „European Search Portal“.

Image: Alphonse Bertillon is considered to have been the inventor of the identification of persons on the basis of body measurements. The facial images of his „Bertillonage“ were later replaced by finger and palm prints (Public domain K. W. Wolf-Czapek).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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