The renewed SIS is active since today. Its number of alerts issued across Europe exceeds one million. However, the EU Commission is misleading about the true character of the system.
The EU Commission today launched the updated Schengen Information System (SIS). Following a renewal of the Regulation, this largest European security and border management database will be expanded to include new categories of alerts. In the fight against crime and terrorism, it will be possible to search for “unknown wanted persons” on the basis of their fingerprints.
The innovations also include the search for missing persons on the basis of biometric data, including handprints and DNA records. In addition, “preventive alerts” can be entered into the SIS for “vulnerable persons”. This concerns, for example, children at risk of abduction or potential victims of terrorism, trafficking in human beings, gender-based violence and “armed hostilities”.
With Ireland, 31 countries participate in SIS II, including the non-EU states of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Their police forces and secret services can use it to enter and query wanted persons, and many other authorities, such as immigration offices or registration offices, can use the system for searches. Recently, this circle was expanded by tens of thousands more authorities and private bodies.
The EU Commission praises the SIS as a database in connection with criminal investigations, for example for persons wanted by the police for arrest, missing persons as well as cars and firearms. With around 85 million entries, it is mainly lost or stolen objects that are advertised in the SIS. In 2022, participating states made almost 13 billion searches.
However, the Commission conceals the fact that the SIS is mainly directed against rejected asylum seekers. According to Article 24 of the SIS II Decision, more than half of the alerts on persons concern so-called “third-country nationals” who have been issued with an alert for refusal of entry or expulsion. Such an entry can be made, for example, after a deportation.
This purpose for migration defence is even extended with the updated functions introduced today. In addition to Europol and national immigration authorities, the border agency Frontex will now also have access to all alert categories in the SIS. To “prevent and deter irregular migration”, so-called return decisions will also become part of the information exchanged in the system. This means that rejected asylum seekers can be identified across Europe during a police check. States will also be able to track whether the “person to be returned” has actually left the EU territory.
Even without the new functions, the SIS has grown steadily in recent years. Although the UK had to leave the system with Brexit and delete its considerable number of entries, the number of wanted persons has recently exceeded the million mark. This is shown by figures published annually by the Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems (eu-LISA).
The current upgrade of the SIS is not the end of the line. Before the end of this year, the EU plans to launch its “Entry/Exit System” (EES), which will require all third-country travellers to provide fingerprints and facial images. In a “European Travel Information and Authorisation System” (ETIAS), information on the travel itinerary must be provided beforehand via an internet form. The SIS is to merge with these two systems to form an “interoperability architecture”. The Commission describes the resulting platform as “most advanced border management system in the world that we are building”.
However, the SIS is also a useful database for European secret services. Together with police forces, they can enter covert or overt Article 36 alerts there, in which the persons concerned are not arrested or detained. If the persons concerned come into a police or border control, a report is made to the authority issuing the alert. The authority then receives information on the travel route, the means of transport used and the passengers.
In terms of numbers, these Article 36 alerts for observation, control or “investigation request” are in second place. Across Schengen, around 12,000 people are thus tracked by secret services, and around 150,000 more by European police forces. By far the most entries (over 100,000) come from France, according to a recent answer to a parliamentary question, with Germany in second place (around 4,700) – and the trend is rising.
Another latest trend is the use of number plate scanners, which are being installed in more and more countries at the side of the motorway. The passing vehicles are automatically checked against national police databases and the SIS. These automated queries have roughly doubled in the last year. Thus, the SIS is developing more and more into a population scanner, which actually deserves much more criticism with its old and new functions.
Published in German in „nd“.