Schengen Information System: Largest European police database now with Ireland

Presumably because of the Corona pandemic, queries to Europe’s largest wanted persons database have dropped drastically. Irish authorities now also participate in the system, but are only allowed to process about a third of the wanted persons entered there.

On Monday, Ireland joined the Schengen Information System (SIS II). This makes the Republic a participant in the largest and most widely used information system in Europe. The SIS II was set up in 1995 partly to compensate for the removal of internal border controls. Another purpose of the system is to improve „internal security“.

In the SIS II, the authorities involved can enter searches for persons and objects. By far the largest part, with about 87 million entries, concerns vehicles or documents reported as lost or stolen. As of 1 January, according to the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, 933,061 persons were listed in the SIS II. After Brexit, around 37,000 UK-registered persons and 4.6 million objects were deleted on 31 December.

Searches for „third country nationals“ excluded

The member states united in the Council of the European Union had already announced Ireland’s accession on 10 December 2020. With Ireland, 31 countries participate in SIS II, including the non-EU states Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Ireland is also not a member of the common Schengen area. Like the UK in the past, it only participates in selected Schengen measures in accordance with the Treaty of Amsterdam. Irish authorities therefore use the system for law enforcement purposes, but not for migration control.

However, around two-thirds of SIS II searches for persons relate to „third-country nationals“ for whom an alert has been issued for the purposes of refusing entry or deportation, in accordance with Article 24 of the SIS II Decision. This information cannot be accessed in Ireland.

40,000 European Arrest Warrants

Breakdown of the cumulative number of alerts on persons at the end of 2020 (eu-LISA).

However, Ireland is allowed to query all other four categories of wanted persons. In second place in the SIS II are alerts under Article 36 for observation, control or „enquiry“. If the persons concerned come to light during a police or border control, a report is made to the issuing authority on their whereabouts, travel route, means of transport and fellow travellers. Last year, this category covered about 145,000 persons. This number increases significantly every year; with around 98,000, most entries continue to come from France.

Other SIS search categories include Article 32 (missing persons), Article 34 (summoning as accused/witnesses in court) and Article 26 (arrest and extradition). European arrest warrants are also stored there, but with just over 40,000, these make up the smallest part of the entries.

The SIS II also contains a fingerprint file with around 87,000 entries. Facial images and DNA data can be stored, but not yet searched.

Only 573 daily „hits“

Since 2013, the central management of the SIS II has been the responsibility of the European Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems (eu-LISA). The police forces connected have to set up a central office (N.SIS), in Ireland the responsibility of this „SIRENE office“ lies with the Garda Síochána National Police. According to Justice Minister Helen McEntee, her department has been working towards this since 2016. Time-consuming measures included training on how to use the system.

With the implementation of three new EU regulations on the SIS II legal framework, the number of connected authorities has also increased significantly in the past year. For example, registration offices, aviation offices or embassies can now make queries and, in some cases, entries. At a later date, weapons, naturalisation and judicial authorities will also be included in the SIS network.

In 2019, the SIS II still recorded 6.6 billion queries. However, the annually increasing number dropped drastically by 44% to 3.7 billion last year. This is according to eu-LISA statistics. The number of „hits“ also decreased significantly to 210,000. The agency does not give a reason for the decline. However, the system is mainly used for checks at airports and other external Schengen borders. With the Corona pandemic, mobility in Europe has also dropped drastically, this is according to eu-LISA reflected in the SIS statistics.

Image: CC-BY 2.0 Manolo Gómez.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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