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Biometrics and the Schengen Information System – Fostering identification capabilities

Three JRC technical reports reviewing new biometric modalities for their integration in the Schengen Information System
Three JRC technical reports reviewing new biometric modalities for their integration in the Schengen Information System
Jul 30 2019

Last year’s reform of the EU’s Schengen Information System legislation has strengthened the role of facial, fingermark and DNA recognition technologies while also introducing stronger data protection rules.  

The Joint Research Centre presents its recommendations for the successful implementation of these technologies.

JRC researchers have analysed the latest technological developments in fingermark, face identification and exchange of DNA profiles, and provided a series of recommendations for the successful implementation of these technologies in the Schengen Information System (SIS), as foreseen in the recent update of the SIS legislation.

The new technologies help border guards to better monitor who is crossing the EU's borders, support police and law enforcement to capture criminals and terrorists, and offer greater protection for missing children and vulnerable adults, in line with the EU’s upgraded data protection rules.

The recommendations will enable the already most widely used EU information system to become even more efficient, and thus make Europe a safer place for its citizens.

They will also support the implementation of the framework for interoperability between EU police and judicial cooperation, asylum and migration information systems and contribute to its successful implementation, which recently became law.

The authors of the three reports emphasise that the quality of the biometric data stored in the SIS database needs to be monitored constantly, this in order to avoid that poor quality data submitted to the system does lead to inaccurate results.

JRC researchers further explain that: "A key step in the process of integrating biometric technologies in SIS is to evaluate them on real operational data, that is, on the data already available in the central system database in order to understand the real performance level which will be reached when implemented".

Benefiting from the General Data protection Reform, the new rules of the Schengen Information System and the implementation of its new functionalities strengthen data protection rights within the EU security and border management. 

The reports will now serve the European Commission and the European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (eu-LISA) to implement these three technologies in SIS.

Finger and palmmark recognition

Building on the existing national expertise and best practice, the study identifies 21 recommendations, that refer to the selection of appropriate formats to collect, exchange and process data, production of statistics, identification of appropriate architecture options, application of rigorous procedures for biometric enrolment, selection of measures to foster quality, definition of use-case scenarios and introduction of regular performance evaluation actions.

The study concludes that Automatic Biometric Identification Systems (ABIS) based on fingermark and palmmark have reached a sufficient level of technological readiness and availability for integration into the Schengen Information System provided, however, that the recommendations listed in the report are implemented and respected.

Facial recognition

Given the important improvement in accuracy of facial recognition technology since 2014 with the advent of deep learning-based systems, the JRC study concludes that ABIS-Face technology has reached a sufficient level of technological readiness and availability for its integration into SIS.

Our researchers list 19 recommendations for the successful rollout and utilisation phase of this new functionality, including different measures to ensure the highest possible quality of the stored data, the proposed optimal architecture of the databases, the age and ageing effects and the evaluation of the ABIS-Face on real operational data already available in the database.

Exchange of DNA profiles

In November 2018, the new regulation on the use of the SIS for police and judicial cooperation added the possibility to introduce DNA profiles in alerts related to missing persons to facilitate their identification, when fingerprint data is not available. The generation of a DNA profile from a biological sample is a complicated and time-consuming process that needs sophisticated equipment and fully-trained laboratory specialists.

Efforts have been made to produce standards in order to minimise the problems related to, for example, contamination of samples or poor quality of the purified DNA sample.

The JRC report describes the current state-of-the-art for the generation and use of DNA profiles for identification purposes.

It also looks into the nature and content of a DNA profile that may be attached to alerts on the CS-SIS (data, metadata and format), and includes an overview of the different levels of quality checks that should be performed before DNA profiles are inserted into the database.

To this end, the report provides a set of 37 practical conclusions and recommendations aiming to achieve the best possible input of DNA profiles to alerts submitted to the CS-SIS.

Background – Schengen Information System

Created as a measure to support the abolition of internal border controls within the Schengen area, the Schengen Information System (SIS) contributes to law enforcement cooperation between the Member States and to reinforcement of external border controls. The SIS was the first so-called large-scale IT system launched by the EU Member States in 1995.

SIS enables competent authorities, such as police and border guards, to enter and consult alerts on certain categories of wanted or missing persons.

Originally, consultations on person-related alerts could only be made on the basis of alphanumeric data (e.g., name, surname, date of birth).

It was soon understood that such a search procedure had limitations since criminals often change identities or use different aliases.

In order to tackle such limitations, SIS offers the possibility to store, as part of person-related alerts, dactyloscopic data, including fingerprints/palm-prints and fingermarks/palmmarks (the latter only in the case of alerts related to terrorist offences and other serious crimes) and facial images. Now DNA profiles will also form part of the data in cases of missing persons.