What is the Schengen Information System (SIS)?
The Schengen Information System (SIS) is the most widely used and largest information sharing system for security and border management in Europe. SIS enables competent national authorities, such as the police and border guards, to enter and consult alerts on persons or objects. An SIS alert does not only contain information about a particular person or object but also instructions for the authorities on what to do when the person or object has been found. Specialised national SIRENE Bureaux located in each Member State serve as single points of contact for the exchange of supplementary information and coordination of activities related to SIS alerts. At the end of 2017, SIS contained approximately 76.5 million records, it was accessed 5.2 billion times and secured 243 818 hits (when a search leads to an alert and the authorities confirm it).
What is the purpose of the SIS?
The main purpose of SIS is to make Europe safer. The system assists the competent authorities in Europe to preserve internal security in the absence of internal border checks. The scope of SIS is defined in three legal instruments:
- Regulation (EC) No 1987/2006 (Border control cooperation):
SIS enables border guards and visa issuing and migration authorities to enter and consult alerts on third-country nationals for the purpose of refusing their entry into or stay in the Schengen area.
- Council Decision 2007/533/JHA (Law enforcement cooperation):
SIS supports police and judicial cooperation by allowing competent authorities to create and consult alerts on missing persons and on persons or objects related to criminal offences.
- Regulation (EC) No 1986/2006 (Cooperation on vehicle registration)
Vehicle registration services may consult SIS in order to check the legal status of the vehicles presented to them for registration. They only have access to SIS alerts on vehicles, registration certificates and number plates.
How will SIS be in the future?
In November 2018, the co-legislators approved the Regulation (UE) 2018/1860, Regulation (UE) 2018/1861 and Regulation (UE) 2018/1862. These Regulations entered into force on 28th December 2019 and they will be completely operational as from December 2021. The new functionalities in SIS are being implemented in different stages, with a requirement for the work to be completed by 2021. The details on the current state of the implementation are included in the annual report to the Parliament and Council, published by the Commission in February 2020.
The changes will entail enhancements in the following areas:
- Sharing of information: New categories of alerts and more data will be shared through SIS, ensuring that complete and more reliable information is available to the authorities of the Member States.
- Biometrics: SIS will contain palm prints, fingerprints, facial images and DNA concerning, for example, missing persons to confirm their identity.
- Counter-terrorism: More information will be shared on persons and objects involved in terrorism-related activities, allowing the authorities of the Member States to better pursue and prevent serious crimes and terrorism.
- Vulnerable persons: Competent authorities will have the possibility of entering preventive alerts in the system to protect certain categories of vulnerable persons (missing persons, children at risk of abduction or potential victims of trafficking in human beings or gender-based violence).
- Irregular migration: Return decisions and entry bans will be part of the information shared in the system to enhance their effective enforcement.
- Enhanced access for EU Agencies: Europol will now have access to all alert categories in the SIS while the European Border and Coast Guard Agency operational teams will be able to access SIS for the purpose of carrying out their tasks in the hotspots.
Moreover, the introduction since March 2018 of an AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) in SIS, and the resulting possibility of making searches using fingerprints, makes it even more difficult for criminals to move unnoticed across Europe.
In which countries is SIS in operation?
SIS is in operation in 30 European countries, including 26 EU Member States (only Ireland and Cyprus are not yet connected to SIS) and 4 Schengen Associated Countries (Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland).
EU Member States with special arrangements:
- Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia are not yet part of the area without internal border checks (the 'Schengen area'). However, since August 2018, Bulgaria and Romania started using fully SIS. A Council Decision is still required for the lifting of checks at the internal borders of these two Member States. In the case of Croatia, there are still some restrictions regarding its use of Schengen-wide SIS alerts for the purposes of refusing entry into or stay in the Schengen area. Those restrictions will be lifted as soon as Croatia has become a part of the area without internal border checks.
- The United Kingdom operates SIS but, as it has chosen not to join the Schengen area, it cannot issue or access Schengen-wide alerts for refusing entry and stay into the Schengen area.
- Ireland and Cyprus are not yet connected to SIS. Ireland is carrying out preparatory activities to connect to SIS, but, as is the case for the UK, it will not be able to issue or access Schengen-wide alerts for refusing entry or stay. Cyprus has a temporary derogation from joining the Schengen area and is not yet connected to SIS.