The Schengen Information System (SIS) is the most widely used and largest information sharing system for security and border management in Europe.
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 through three different areas of cooperation:
- Border control cooperation
SIS enables border guards, as well as 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.
- 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.
- 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.
SIS enables competent national authorities, such as the police and border guards, to enter and consult alerts on persons or objects.
A 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. The specialised national SIRENE Bureaus 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 2019, SIS contained approximately 91 million records, it was accessed 6.7 billion times and secured 283 713 hits (when a search leads to an alert and the authorities confirm it).
The Schengen Information System 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 fully operational as from December 2021.
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.
- 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. Since 28 December 2020, all Member States must be able to carry out searches on the basis of fingerprints in SIS. Member States are now gradually rolling out the fingerprint search functionality to their police officers and border guards.
On 9 December 2020, the Commission adopted a proposal to enable Europol to issue alerts in the Schengen Information System (SIS) on the basis of third country sourced information, in particular, to detect foreign terrorist fighters.
Countries using the Schengen Information System
The Schengen Information System is operational in 30 European countries, including 26 EU Member States (only Cyprus is not yet connected to SIS) and four 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.
- Ireland 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.
- Cyprus is not yet connected to SIS as it has a temporary derogation from joining the Schengen area.