Schengen Information System

The Schengen Information System, also called “SIS”, is a secure governmental database system used by several European countries for the purpose of maintaining and distributing information related to border security and law enforcement. The data collected concern certain classes of persons and property. This information is shared among the participating countries of the Schengen Agreement Application Convention (SAAC). The five original participating countries were France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Nineteen additional countries have joined the system since its creation, including Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Greece, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Currently, the Schengen Information System is used by 27 countries. It should be noted that among the current participants, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland are not members of the European Union.

Although the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, have not signed the SAAC, they take part in the Schengen co-operation under the terms of the Treaty of Amsterdam, which introduced the provisions of Schengen Acquis into the European Union. Schengen Acquis allows the United Kingdom and Ireland to take part in all or part of the Schengen arrangements, subject to unanimous approval by the Council. Ireland and the United Kingdom will mainly use the Schengen Information System for law enforcement purposes. They will not use the Article 96 data, because they do not intend to implement the policy of freedom of movement of persons at the European level (In 2006, Ireland implemented Directive 2004/38/EC, E.U free Movement of Persons directive as Irish Statutory Instrument S.I 656/2006)

General Description

In the SIS, information is stored according to the legislation of each country. There are more than seventeen million entries, containing the following information:

  • Family name
  • First name
  • Possible objective and permanent physical characteristics
  • First letter of the second first name
  • Date of birth
  • Birthplace
  • Sex
  • Nationality
  • Any aliases they may be using
  • Whether the person in question was armed
  • Whether the person in question was violent
  • Reason for the alert
  • Action to be taken
  • Lost, stolen, or misappropriated firearms
  • Lost, stolen, or misappropriated identity documents
  • Lost, stolen, or misappropriated blank identity documents
  • Lost, stolen, or misappropriated motor vehicles
  • Lost, stolen, or misappropriated banknotes

A second technical version of the system is in preparation (SIS II), in order to include new types of data and to integrate the new Member States of the Union. The system would be opened with a greater number of institutions (for example, the legal authorities, Europol, and the security services). Personal data could be read on one personal assistant in all Europe, by the police force and the customs during the identity checks. (Although this type of implementation yet remains in the future, it would be under the responsibility and limited by the technical capabilities of each Member State.) Some would like to benefit from these technical changes to turn this system into an investigation system, but a great number of Member States want this system to remain a system of police checks, leaving to Europol the role of investigation.


The Treaty of Rome of March 25 1957, as well as the treaty instituting the economic Union of the Benelux countries of February 3 1958, had from their inception the goal of free movement of persons and goods. The Benelux countries, as a reduced entity, were able to quickly implement this integration. For the European Community, the focus was initially on the economic aspects and it was not until after the signing of the agreement of Saarbrücken between France and Germany on July 13 1984 that significant reductions of the controls on persons at the borders between these two states were made.

Joined by the three member states of Benelux, these five countries signed the Schengen Agreement on June 14 1985 for the purpose of gradually establishing free movement of persons and goods between them. Although seemingly simple, this presented a number of difficulties. The tradeoff for this freedom is that each state had to relinquish a portion of its autonomy and trust its partners to carry out the measures necessary to its own safety.

In order for the reduction of interior border checks to be done without causing a deficit of safety, in particular since Europe already faced a real terrorist threat, compensatory measures were to be implemented.

Drafting the text took five years. It was only on June 19, 1990 that the five precursory states who signed the Schengen Agreement Application Convention of June 14, 1985 (SAAC), began to be gradually joined by Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Austria and the five Nordic Passport Union countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

On December 21, 2007 Schengen border-free zone was once more enlarged to include nine new nations: Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The Schengen Information System today

Legal aspects and technical characteristics

Since March 25, 2001, fifteen States apply the SAAC and have lifted police controls at their internal borders. The compensatory measures form the main part of the SAAC but the principal one, the backbone of Schengen, is the creation of a common information system to the signatory States: the Schengen Information System (the SIS). This system is an innovator as regards police co-operation, legally speaking as well as technically:

  • legally first of all, by the recognition of the legal force of the records transmitted by the Schengen partners, with the commitment of each State to respect the action to be taken prescribed by the description, as well as insertion, right from the origin, of a device able to ensure the respect of the personal freedoms and the personal data protection.
  • technically by the complete creation of an information processing system, connected permanently to extremely different various national applications, having to ensure the update in real time of the national databases. The sharing of personal data with delegation of powers as for the application of the actions to be taken could only be made on the basis of reciprocal confidence, which rests itself on the transparency.

To do this, these States committed by signing the convention to ensure the correctness, the up to date status and the legality of the integrated data, and to use these data only for the finality stated by the relevant articles of convention. These commitments are supplemented by consultation procedures between the States; in particular when for reasons of national law, or of opportunity, an action to be taken cannot be carried out on a given territory. This consultation gives the possibility to national authorities to expose the reasons of right or fact about a record and, on the other hand, to inform a requesting State of the reasons for which the action to be taken would not be applied. This procedure applies in particular for records from foreigners considered as undesirable by a country, but holder of a residence permit delivered by another country, for international warrants for arrest, or for cases of State security.

Being an information processing system dealing with the personal data, the preoccupation of protection of the private life existing in the countries founders on the matter is transposed naturally in the text of the convention, which enacts that the existence of a data law is a precondition to the implementation of convention in the countries. Thus, each national authority (for France the National Commission of data processing and freedoms or “CNIL”) is in charge of the control of the national part of SIS. The central system, essentially international although under French responsibility, could not remain without control. The Convention thus created a common control authority, independent of the States, and composed of representatives from the national authorities. It takes care of the strict application of the provisions relating to the personal data protection.

At technical level, the participating countries adopted a data-processing star architecture made up of a central site containing the reference database, known as C-SIS, for which the responsibility is entrusted to the French Republic by the CAAS, and a site by country, known as N-SIS, containing a copy of the database. These various bases must be identical permanently. All together C-SIS and N-SISes constitutes the SIS.

Data managed by the SIS

An agreement was found on the definition of the descriptions to be integrated in this system. They concern the persons:

  • Requested for extradition
  • Undesirable in the territory of a participating State
  • Minor of age, mentally ill patients, and missing persons or in danger with an aim of ensuring their own protection
  • Requested by a judicial authority, such as witnesses, those quoted to appear for notification of judgement and absconders
  • Suspected of taking part in serious offences and having to be the subject of checks or a surveillance control

In addition are concerned the following objects:

  • Motor vehicles under a surveillance control
  • Lost, stolen, or misappropriated vehicles
  • Lost, stolen, or misappropriated banknotes
  • Lost, stolen, or misappropriated identity documents
  • Lost, stolen, or misappropriated blank identity documents
  • Lost, stolen, or misappropriated firearms

By the communication of this data, each State places at the disposal of its partners the information allowing them to ensure for its account, and on the basis of its own information, the share of safety that it delegates to them. A strong technical constraint, aiming at ensuring the update of SIS in a five minutes maximum, ensures the correctness of the data.

Considering that a system is worth only by the use which is made of it, France, for the insertion of the records in of SIS, chose an automated solution, extracting them from the large national databases. This automation limits to the minimum the human interventions, usually generating errors and waste of time. The French records are thus transmitted to the countries participating in SIS, in a very short time.

In the same spirit, France decided to couple the query of the system, by the end-users of the national data bases, with the SIS, without causing an extra load of work for the end-user. Thus, without specific additional operation, the police officer querying the database of the wanted persons (FPR) or the database of the stolen vehicles (FVV) will obtain a response at the level of the Schengen States at the same time as the response at the national level.

The discoveries carried out by the end-users on the basis of SIS records implies mandatory the application of the measurements envisaged by the action to be taken, indicated by the requesting country. The operation of SIS thus generates an exchange of information between the services of the participating States.

The linguistic problem brought the creation of particular procedures which describe, according to pre-established forms, the way in which the exchanges must proceed, as well as the creation, in each country, of an office particularly in charge of this new international form of cooperation. This service, single contact point by country, ensures the transmission between the French and foreign services of the all relevant information allowing the execution of the measure to be taken, and their translation, took the name of SIRENE (Supplementary Information Request at the National Entry). Whenever a State authority has a hit on a SIS record, the SIRENE exchange, by its own communication network, sends notification forms of the discovery and further information which, although essential to the good continuation of the investigations and procedures in progress, cannot appear in the SIS records themselves.

Police Co-operation and legal mutual assistance

Beside the SIS and the SIRENE offices, whose intervention are directly dependent, the Schengen convention instituted a police co-operation and a legal mutual assistance which usefully complete these operational dispositions. The police co-operation covers in particular:

  • assistance for purposes of prevention and search for punishable facts (article 39)
  • right for cross border surveillance allowing the continuation of a police surveillance in another Schengen country (article 40)
  • right for cross border pursuit which prevents that an individual author of an in flagrante delicto does not owe his immunity to the fact of crossing a border which is not controlled any more (article 41)
  • finally the communication of information, significant for the repression or the prevention of inflagrante delicto or threats for the order and public safety (article 46)

The legal mutual assistance envisages in particular, the possibility of transmitting directly certain parts of procedure by postal way to the persons being on the territory of other States; to transmit requests for legal mutual assistance directly between legal authorities; finally to transmit the execution of a criminal judgement to a contracting part on the territory of which one of its nationals took refuge. In addition, the convention compares the inscription of a warrant for arrest in the SIS to a request for provisional arrest for extradition, which causes to ensure the immediate placement of the individuals under extradition detention.

Bilan and the evolution of SIS

An undeniable success

After more than 11 years of existence, the system having been opened to the end-users on March 26, 1995, this double legal and technical challenge has proven to be a success. The SIS is today the most effective and most powerful system of police co-operation thanks to its extremely short update delays, its ease of use, and the fact that all police forces within the participating countries have a direct and immediate access to the database. Provided initially, at least by certain countries, mainly with records of undesirable foreigners, an increase in the records for international/European warrant of arrest, as well as an increase in the descriptions of objects can currently be observed. It contains more than seventeen million records. The operational results obtained are in accordance with the efforts made to reach a satisfactory functioning of this complex entity which is the SIS. One can note in particular that during the first ten years of existence, it made it possible to stop on the territory of the other partners more than 2,000 individuals being wanted with a warrant for arrest from the French justice, and on the other side stopping in France approximately 1,900 criminals sought by the other Schengen countries.

Evolution towards SIS II

A second technical version of this system (SIS II), is currently under development under the responsibility of the European Commission. Its deployment is currently planned in 2009. Some would like it to become a system of investigation, thus modifying its original finality of a check tool. To justify this evolution, the current system was criticized because of its limitation with 18 connections. This limitation has no technical reason, tests having proven the ability of the current system to sustain the traffic produced by 30 countries, but is a political issue, as the Counsel decided to limit this number of connections on the SIS 1+ (modification due to overcome the Year 2000 problem and allow the connection of the 5 Nordic States rapidly) to 18 connections. Some the system's technicians estimate that the current system could have evolved to manage the new countries without an overall recasting. See for example report/ratio of the French Senate (p.14) on the recasting of SIS. Would the Council have chosen to follow the smooth evolution path from SIS 1+ to SIS II, the SIS II would already be operational and the new Member States could connect their system whenever they are ready. The critics of the project of recasting point out the flexibility of the current system, although it already knew several evolutions. They criticize the risks of delay and the significant cost of the draft prepared by the Commission. According to wishes' of the European political leaders for greater accessibility to the data of all the services contributing to interior security, SIS II's improvements to the SIS are acceptable. These accesses, which will soon be open to the end-user, do not depend, for the majority, on the system itself but on the management of the data in the participating countries themselves.


Due to delays in the SIS II deployment, which will now only be available by mid 2008, Portugal offered a modified version of its SIS 1+ system to new Member States. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia accepted the Portuguese proposal and use the new system until the SIS II deployment. This version, named SISone4ALL, which was developed by SEF (Portugal's Border and Foreigners Service) and Critical Software Technologies , was deployed in 2007 and allowed the adherence of participant new Member States to be on schedule.

Switzerland has now also decided to join Schengen using SISone4ALL before SIS II deployment.


Some see in this concentration of information by the governments an assault on the citizens' privacy. The SIS was the target of many protests, in particular from 18 July to 28 July 2002, when 2000 activists of No Border Network expressed themselves in Strasbourg, where the C.SIS (Centre of the Schengen Information System) is located. Many feared that the second version of SIS would include photographs, fingerprints, and DNA fingerprints, which could be available to authorities and organizations for which this information was not intended when collected. However, the drafts prepared by the Commission do not officially envision the inclusion of DNA fingerprints. Critics also worry that the database could, in fact, include people simply because of their political viewpoints or their participation in anti-government political protests; however, the current law does not provide a basis for such a capability.

See also

External links


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