The Schengen Information System
Electronic instrument of migration control and deportation
09.Dec.01 - When the police forces and Justice and Home Affairs ministers of the five original Schengen states started to plan the The Schengen Information System (SIS) at the end of the 1980's, they justified the central collection of data with the reasoning that the abolition of internal border controls was a security risk as drug smugglers, terroritsts and organised criminals could wander freely over European territory. This is why Europe was in need of a common ivrstigation area, a common system to investigate and search for persons and objects. A close investigation of the nature of the data stored however, reveals that far from being an instrument for security, the SIS is forst and foremost an instrument of control and a means to detect and deport non-EU- nationals. More recent plans point to the development that the SIS will in future also be used to control the movement of political activists.
The SIS, which came into operation in 1995, is the first supranational
investigation system for law enforcement agencies which can be
accessed from local terminals of all participating states. It consists of a
central unit located in Strasbourg, which is linked to national systems.
The central unit ensures that all the data sets are saved both in the
central unit and the national systems. The national units are responsible
for posting notices on wanted persons or objects. In Germany for
example, this is the Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BKA). The
national units are also contacted if a person is successfully traced down -
hence their name: SIRENE (Supplementary Information Request at the
National Entry). Via an independent communication network they
provide information that far surpasses the relatively short SIS data sets.
On 27 March 1995, the SIS was linked to seven states and came into operation. These states were the five states which were the first to sign the Schengen Implementation Agreement (SIA), that is, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Germany, as well as Spain and Portugal. On 1 December 1997, Italy, Austria and Greece joined. Since 25 March 2001, the northern EU states Denmark, Sweden and Finland and the non-EU-states Norway and Iceland also linked up with the Schengen Information System, which means that altogether 15 national components are linked to the central terminal in Strasbourg. Great Britain and Ireland are planning to participate at least partially in the SIS. It is only a matter of time until the eastern and southern European accession states will join.
The SIS - a technical deportation device By 1998, the SIS data volume had reached 8.6 million records, out of which 7.4 million referred to property (cars, banknotes, stolen identity cards, weapons). Because of the high percentage of so called alias- groups (430.000) only 795.000 entries of the 1.2 million remaining person specific data sets referred to actual people. As far as the tracing down of people is concerned the SIS has turned out to be, first and foremost, an instrument of a repressive migration and deportation policy. Approximately 88% of wanted persons are third country nationals who are to be deported or prevented from crossing the border into the EU. This refusal of entry and deportation order, with its corresponding collection of data, is regulated under Article 96 of the SIA.
During the course of the year 1998, the wanted persons list of the SIS grew substantially. This is due to the fact that Italy, Austria and Greece joined the system on 1 December 1997. Italy alone had entered 220.000 person specific data sets during 1998, and therefore became the second largest owner of data sets of all the SIS member states. Out of these 220.000, 88% referred to Article 96 SIA. Germany however, remains the country with the largest data base on people, with 350.000 entries - an amount which corresponds to almost 44% of all person specific data sets (Of these, 98 % refer to Article 96). France follows Italy with 113.000 person specific entries (60 % of which are Article 96 related).
Most of SIS related person specific investigations are directed against Article 96 related non-EU migrants. The majority (56%) of successes, so- called SIS "hits", concerns refugees and migrants as well, as they are often stopped and searched by the police only because of their outer appearances. Although the number of data sets referring to objects is much higher that person specific data, successes in this area equal a mere 26%. Out of these, 26% refer to stolen lorries that are successfully traced down. The SIS is therefore most successful where control is the easiest and therefore most often carried out on grounds of the size of the object and in relation to people, due to easily detectable outer appearances, that is skin colour.
Racist Control Practices The deletion of redundant data sets, as it was carried out in 1997 for example, prove the low efficiency of the (almost) EU-wide electronic investigation system. The SIS is only efficient in so far as it can enforce a practice of control typical for the electronic tracing on a European level: in practise, this means that a person is stopped and searched not due to a concrete suspicion, but because his/her outward appearance corresponds to certain criteria and because there is a terminal available from which the SIS can be accessed. These kind of stop and search operations, independent from the existence of suspicion, were formerly only allowed at the borders. But already the introduction of national investigation systems had changed the criteria that determine what is suspicious and what is not: in reference to the SIA, Germany first introduced the "dragnet control", and therefore non-suspect related stop and search operations, and later extended it from the border regions to inland areas.
This shift can be detected from Germany's SIS statistics. Out of the 65 million SIS inquiries made by German authorities, 52 % were requested by frontier officials and mobile patrols near the border. The remaining 47.5 % of requests were made by police in the inland, therefore related to non- suspect related stop and search operations that were carried out in inner cities, on country roads and in trains, and that are first and foremost directed against migrants.
SIS - the second generation: When Austria, Italy and Greece joined the system in 1997, there were indications that the capacity of the system would soon reach its limits. The system was therefore expanded to include the "SIS 1 plus", before the northern European states were linked up. Simultaneously, the Schengen Executive Committee decided to build another SIS. The present documents of the SIS working group of the European Council and Schengen Executive Committee prove that they are not only aiming at an expansion of the capacity of the system but are changing its content as well. This will entail some changes in the Schengen Implementation Agreement. So far, Italy is the only country that wants to check the necessity for this change before approving the decision. France has some reservations against the planned expansion of the data storage period under Article 96 SIA (Refusal and deportation of non-EU- migrants) and Article 99 SIA (police surveillance).
More data, longer storage periods, DNA profiles Up to now person specific data can only be stored for three years, after which it has to be reviewed. Data related to police surveillance is stored for only for 12 months in the data base of the SIS. The expansion of the period of time for which data can be stored will automatically result in an rise of the number of person specific data. That is particularly so for Article 96 related data, which, as already said, has made up 80-90% of all person specific data over the past years. The second generation of the SIS will not only result in an expansion in quantity but also in a change in quality. So far, data sets have hardly contained more than the warrant notice. Concerning persons this included the personal details, the reason for the entry or investigation (arrest, location of residence etc.) and details on the national authority which posted the data into the system. Other personal details could only amount to necessary short desciptions such as "violent" or "armed". The SIS 2 will profoundly change that. It is planned not only to record the "kind of criminal offence" and the information "runaway prisoner" or "person in psychological danger", but also personal "identification material", that is photographs, fingerprints and DNA profiles.