The Schengen area is based on important legal policies, protocols, security measures and values of freedom. Several security systems exist to ensure safe passage and freedom of movement for anyone with the privilege of moving freely within the Schengen area. One of these systems is the Schengen Information System or SIS. Originally set up in June 1990, the system was updated in 2013 and is now known as the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II).
What is the Schengen Information System (SIS)?
The Schengen Information System (SIS) is one of the largest information databases in the EU, containing more than 40 million alerts on people and objects. The SIS enables competent authorities to share and manage information on missing persons, wanted persons, illegal entries into the Schengen area, stolen vehicles and lost or stolen identity documents.
Once an alert is entered in the SIS, the data is made available to all authorities that have access to the system. Data in SIS is stored for three to five years, and typically once an alert has been resolved, such as when a missing person is found, the alert is removed from the system.
What is SIREN?
SIRENE stands for Request for Supplementary Information at National Entries and is an important part of the Schengen Information System. Every country that uses the SIS is required to set up a SIRENE bureau that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – even EUROPOL has a SERENE bureau. SERENE is responsible for exchanging information and coordinating activities related to SIS alerts.
SERENE has many important responsibilities, some of which include contacting the country that issued an alert when a match is found, contacting the country that issued an alert when no action can be taken, reviewing requests for access to personal data, to review alerts for wanted persons, and much more.
How does the Schengen Information System work?
The Schengen Information System comprises the following elements:
- A central system.
- National SIS systems in all countries using SIS.
- A network between systems.
All countries using SIS are responsible for setting up and maintaining the SIS system and its structure (National SIS or N.SIS). The national systems located in all eligible countries are connected and communicate with the central system, which allows SIS data to be available in real time as soon as an alert is registered. The EU Agency for Large-Scale IT Systems (eu-LISA) is responsible for the operational management of the central and national systems.
How are alerts entered into the SIS?
Competent authorities who have access to the system can enter an alert if they believe that an alert is necessary for various reasons. In simple terms, an alert in the SIS is recorded as follows:
- A person or object is reported as missing, crime-related, or of interest.
- An official authority enters the personal information relating to this person or object in the SIS, and an alert is registered.
- All Member Countries have access to this information.
- The person, object or documents are located and anyone with access to SIS can enter the information into the system.
- Once an alert is over, for example, a vehicle is located, a person is dismissed or found, and then the alert can be cleared.
Only the official authority that entered the alert can modify, transfer or delete the information that it entered. Please note that if an alert concerns you or your personal items, you have the right to request that the data be modified or deleted from the system.
What types of alerts are logged?
The official authorities can only enter alerts in the SIS concerning persons and objects belonging to one of the following categories:
- Refusal of entry. These alerts are issued for people who are not authorized to enter or stay in the Schengen area. With this alert, all competent authorities are aware that if the person in question tries to enter, they must be refused, and if they are found in the Schengen area, they must be returned.
- People wanted. If a person is wanted for arrest or extradition, an alert can be entered in the SIS.
- Missing persons. An alert is required for missing persons and there is reason to believe that they could be found in the Schengen area. If necessary, once the missing persons are located, they can be moved to a safe and secure area.
- Persons required for legal proceedings. If a person is wanted in the context of legal proceedings, for example to serve as a witness in criminal proceedings, an alert allowing their address to be located can be entered in the SIS.
- Persons and objects required for particular cases. Official authorities can enter in the SIS an alert on persons or objects that may play an important role in the prosecution of criminal offenses or the prevention of national threats and security risks.
- Objects necessary for seizure or criminal cases. Objects that can be used in criminal proceedings, such as vehicles, travel documents and other equipment, can be entered in the SIS as objects to be seized. A travel document alert may also be issued to prevent the person holding the documents from travelling.
Which countries can use the SIS?
All EU countries can use SIS, including Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. The SIS is operational in 31 European countries, including Ireland, which joined in 2021. Information contained in the SIS can be shared with official institutions in all participating countries. Some countries, such as Croatia, may have limited access to the SIS, while Cyprus does not.
SIS access rights
The following official authorities of the Schengen Member States have the right to access alerts and enter them into the SIS:
- Border and migration authorities.
- Police authorities.
- Customs authorities.
- Judicial authorities.
- Visa and immigration authorities.
- Vehicle, boat and aircraft registration authorities (once official updates in 2022).
What type of information does the SIS contain?
The following information can be entered and saved in the SIS:
|When an individual is concerned:||When an object is concerned:|
|Identification and personal data such as name, photograph, address, passport number, etc.||Detailed information to identify the object and any relevant information for the authorities in charge of the search.|
|A detailed description of why an alert is being issued for this person, for example, if they are a missing person, a victim of trafficking, a wanted or endangered person, etc.||A detailed description of why this object is wanted, it is a stolen vehicle, it is carrying something illegal, it is a stolen document, etc.|
|A copy of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) if a person is wanted for arrest.||A detailed description of the actions to be taken when the object is located.|
|Fingerprints and palm prints (with new updates in 2022)||Photographs or images of the object (with new updates in 2022).|
Is the information contained in the SIS secure?
While the SIS uses sensitive data to help find and prevent criminal activity and assist victims of crime, the data entered into the system is protected by high security measures. First, national data protection authorities monitor and supervise the protection of data entered into the SIS by each country. Second, the European Data Protection Supervisor observes how the Data Protection Guidelines are applied in the Central System, which is managed by eu-LISA.
What is the difference between VIS and SIS?
Both are security systems implemented by Schengen member countries to create a safer borderless area. However, the VIS is mainly concerned with storing data and information concerning third-country nationals who have applied for or hold a visa to enter the Schengen area. On the other hand, the SIS is a database that sends alerts in real situations to help locate people and objects of interest in the Schengen area.
How do I cancel an SIS alert?
If an alert concerning you is entered in the SIS, only the authority or the country which entered the alert can delete or modify the data. If you believe that the data used in the SIS is illegal, you must submit a written request together with a copy of your travel document to the competent authority which entered the data in the first place. You can send the request yourself or your lawyer can do it on your behalf. In some cases, the European Data Protection Supervisor may be asked to act as a mediator if an initial request to delete data is not approved.
SIS updates in 2022
By fall 2022, several updates are expected to be implemented with SIS:
- More detailed personal data. With the new update in 2022, the SIS will include more biometric data, including photographs, palm prints, fingerprints, fingerprints, palm marks and DNA records. Currently, the SIS still does not use photo and image recognition technology, but with the new updates, it will be part of the SIS.
- More information on counter-terrorism. Each country with access to SIS will share more information regarding potential terrorist attacks and terrorism-related activities. The SIS will be able to provide EUROPOL with more “matches” related to terrorist crimes.
- More information on vulnerable people. SIS will add more information to missing person alerts. This will facilitate the fight against violent crimes such as human trafficking, gender-based violence, child abduction, etc. Also, with the new updates, a copy of their identification documents will be attached to their alert if the SIS is looking for someone.
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