What is the Schengen Information System (SIS)?
The Schengen Information System (SIS) is the most widely used and largest information sharing system for security and border management in Europe. As there are no internal borders between Schengen countries in Europe, SIS compensates for border controls and is the most successful cooperation tool for border, immigration, police, customs and judicial authorities in the EU and the Schengen associated countries.
Competent national authorities, such as the police and border guards, are able to enter and consult alerts on people and objects in one common database. These people and objects can be located anywhere within the EU and the Schengen area during border, police or other lawful checks.
Since 1995, the system has helped Europe preserve its security in the absence of internal border checks.
In 2013, the second generation of SIS (SIS II) was rolled out, with additional functionalities, such as the possibility of adding fingerprints and photographs to alerts.
In March 2023, SIS was renewed with new alerts, upgraded data and enhanced functionalities.
Specialised national SIRENE Bureaux 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 approx. 91 million records, it was accessed 6.6 billion times and secured 283,713 hits (when a search leads to an alert and the authorities confirm it). Source: https://www.eulisa.europa.eu
What is the purpose of the SIS?
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. The scope of SIS is defined in three legal instruments:
- Regulation (EU) 2018/1860 * of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 November 2018 on the use of the Schengen Information System for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals
- Regulation (EU) 2018/1861 * of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 November 2018 on the establishment, operation and use of the Schengen Information System (SIS) in the field of border checks, and amending the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement, and amending and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1987/2006
- Regulation (EU) 2018/1862 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 November 2018 on the establishment, operation and use of the Schengen Information System (SIS) in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, amending and repealing Council Decision 2007/533/JHA, and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1986/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council and Commission Decision 2010/261/EU
* It must be noted that Ireland, although an EU Member State, has opted out from these provisions.
How is it currently operating In Ireland ?
The Schengen Information System went live in Ireland on 15 March 2021, and enables An Garda Síochána to further improve the safety and security of the public with access to the most widely used and largest information sharing system for security and border management in Europe.
On the 7th of March 2023, the upgraded Schengen Information System (SIS) entered into operation. SIS is the largest information sharing system for security and border management in Europe. It provides information on wanted or missing persons, third-country nationals with no legal right to stay in the Union and lost or stolen objects (for example cars, firearms, boats and identity documents).
The renewed SIS is enhanced to include new categories of alerts, biometrics such as palm prints, fingermarks, and DNA records for missing persons, and additional tools to combat crime and terrorism. The upgrade is important as it will also allow for preventive alerts to protect vulnerable persons and deter irregular migration. These upgrades aim to provide national authorities with more complete and reliable information to enhance security and border management in Europe.
The upgraded features include:
- Enhanced information sharing and cooperation: New categories of alerts and more data will be shared through SIS, ensuring that more complete and more reliable information is available to the national authorities. Clearer rules and improved structures have been introduced for the exchange of information through the national contact points (SIRENE Offices).
- New possibilities to locate and identify persons sought and strengthen external border controls: In addition to photographs and fingerprints, SIS will contain new types of biometrics (such as palm prints, fingermarks and palmmarks, as well as DNA records – but only in relation to missing persons) and other information to locate and identify people registered in the system.
- Additional tools to combat criminality and terrorism: New inquiry check alerts will allow national authorities to collect targeted information on suspects of serious crime or terrorism. For example, identification documents, information about the car that they are using will be stored in SIS. There will be alerts on “unknown wanted persons”, containing only the prints of unknown perpetrators that are discovered at the scenes of terrorist offences or serious crimes.
- Additional tools to protect missing and vulnerable persons: National authorities will be able to issue preventive alerts in the system to protect certain categories of vulnerable persons (children at risk of abduction or potential victims of terrorism, trafficking in human beings, gender-based violence, or armed conflict/hostilities), in addition to existing alerts on missing persons.
- Additional tools to prevent and deter irregular migration: Return decisions will be part of the information shared in the system to improve the effective enforcement of these decisions. Member States will be required to create an alert in SIS each time they issue a return decision on a third-country national with no legal right to stay in the EU, allowing them to actively follow up whether the returnee effectively leaves the EU territory. It will pave the way for mutual recognition of return decisions between Member States, as proposed by President von der Leyen in her letter with targeted actions ahead of the February European Council. *
- Enhanced use of SIS by EU Agencies: Europol and national immigration authorities now have access to all alert categories in SIS. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) operational teams have been granted access to SIS (implementation is still ongoing).
* It must be noted that Ireland, although an EU Member State, has opted out from these provisions.
SIS has strict requirements on data quality and data protection. The system only contains data on people and objects wanted in EU countries and Schengen associated countries. National authorities supervise the application of the data protection rules in their respective countries, while the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) monitors how the data protection rules are being applied in the central system managed by eu-LISA.
As of May 2023, the renewed SIS is operational in 30 countries throughout Europe (26 EU Member States and the Schengen associated countries). The connection of Cyprus to SIS in summer 2023 will further extend security cooperation throughout the entire Union.
Who is currently responsible for SIS in Ireland?
An Garda Síochána has responsibility for system connectivity and international communications regarding SIS II. The national SIRENE Bureau is located at Garda Headquarters. The SIRENE Bureau is supported by the N.SIS Office, also located in Garda Headquarters.
What types of information are shared by Ireland?
Ireland has opted to participate in certain specific parts of the SIS II. Ireland sends and receives SIS II information (termed ‘Alerts’) on persons and objects; for example persons wanted for criminal purposes, missing persons and objects which have been stolen or are wanted as evidence for a judicial purpose.
SIS provides Garda Members and Garda Staff who use PULSE with access to real time data on specific Alerts.
Examples under each category:
Ireland has been sending and receiving Alerts under the following six SIS II provisions (Articles of the Council Decision 2007/533/JHA);
- Art 26 - Alerts on persons wanted for arrest for surrender purposes. Art 26 primarily refers to persons in respect of whom a European Arrest Warrant exists.
- Art 32 - Alerts on missing persons who need to be placed under protection and/or whose whereabouts need to be ascertained.
- Art 34 - Alerts on persons sought to assist with a judicial procedure. This may include witnesses or suspects subject to a criminal prosecution.
- Art 36 - Alerts on persons and/or objects for discreet checks
- Art 38 - Alerts on objects for seizure or for use as evidence in criminal proceedings
- Article 40: Alerts on Unknown Wanted Persons for Purposes of Identification Under National Law
What are the benefits of sharing information to other member countries of SIS?
The key benefits of SIS are;
- greater efficiency in law enforcement systems through the real-time exchange of information across all countries using SIS.
- access to biometric data i.e. photographs, fingerprints/palmprints, etc.
- increased security through strengthened data and intelligence sharing and collaboration with SIS participating countries.
This is achieved, in the majority of cases, through the automatic, simultaneous and immediate exchange of information across all countries using SIS II.
High Level Statistics:
The system was accessed over 12.7 billion times during 2022.
At the end of 2022, there were 86.5 million alerts stored in the central system.
263,452 on foreign alerts were processed by the SIRENE Bureaux during the year.
What are the benefits to Ireland in receiving information from other member countries of SIS?
The key benefit is enhanced security; that several agencies involved in law enforcement will have ready access to data from across Europe, data which will be consulted automatically during checks on certain national systems in Ireland.
Who do I contact if I have concerns questions regarding data protection and SIS?
An Garda Síochána has a dedicated Data Protection Unit that manages queries and requests regarding personal data on behalf of the organisation, including in respect of SIS II. Data protection queries regarding SIS II, including requests for access can be sent to email@example.com. Any individual seeking access to personal information held by An Garda Síochána, including information held on SIS II, should complete a Data Access Request Form (F20), which is available along with other information via the following link: https://www.garda.ie/en/about-us/online-services/data-protection-foi-police-certificates/an-garda-siochana-and-data-protection.html
What safeguards are in place to ensure the data shared under SIS is legally and correctly dealt with?
Any person who believes that his or her personal information are recorded in the Schengen Information System (SIS II) can make an access request to any of the contracting parties to the Schengen acquis. The right of access is complemented by the right to have inaccurate data rectified, and the right to have personal data erased where it has been stored without a lawful basis.
Requests for access, rectification or erasure of personal data processed by An Garda Síochána using SIS II can be made by submitting a Data Access Request Form (F20) to the An Garda Síochána Data Protection Unit (firstname.lastname@example.org). Further information regarding access requests, including a link to the Data Access Request Form, is available via the following link: https://www.garda.ie/en/about-us/online-services/data-protection-foi-police-certificates/an-garda-siochana-and-data-protection.html
The Data Protection Commission (DPC) is the national supervisory authority for data protection matters in Ireland, and has oversight of the processing of personal data by An Garda Síochána related to SIS II. The DPC can also be contacted via their website regarding any concerns in respect of the processing of personal data as part of SIS II: https://www.dataprotection.ie/
When was it introduced?
SIS went live in Ireland on 15 March 2021.
What difference does it make?
The use of SIS II makes no perceivable difference to the public in terms of reporting crimes and offences to An Garda Síochána and in terms of going about their daily lives. The significant difference is the increased amount of information available to members of An Garda Síochána, and to other authorised users, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the decision-making as circumstances dictate.
Do the family of a missing person have to consent to the sharing of the data?
Families of a missing person do not have to provide specific consent in regard to the sharing of data. Each missing person report recorded by An Garda Síochána on the Garda PULSE system will automatically result in a simultaneous SIS II Alert being created with equivalent data regarding that missing person.
Will the family of missing persons be kept updated in relation to information on SIS?
Families of missing persons will be kept updated in relation to their missing relative as is current practice. Such updates will include any information from SIS II. Information from SIS II will depend on the circumstances of the case and, in particular, the age/vulnerability etc. of the missing person.
What volume of data is it anticipated will be shared by SIS II in the first year of operation?
The following is an estimate of the volumes of alerts which Ireland may exchange during the first 12 months of operation:
- 100 alerts related to Article 26 of the Council Decision 2007/533/JHA (persons wanted for arrest for surrender or for extradition purposes);
- 8,600 alerts related to Article 32 of the Council Decision (alerts on missing persons);
- 100 alerts related to Article 34 of the Council Decision (alerts on persons sought to assist with a judicial procedure);
- 500 alerts related to Article 36 of the Council Decision (alerts on persons and objects for discreet checks or specific checks); and
- 15,000 alerts related to Article 38 of the Council Decision (alerts on objects and for seizure or use as evidence in criminal procedures).
The volume of data which Ireland will receive from other countries using SIS II will be driven by circumstances, and cannot be defined with confidence at this time.
In which countries is SIS in operation?
SIS is in operation in 30 European countries, including 26 EU Member States and 4 Schengen Associated Countries (Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland). Cyprus will be the last EU country to join and is expected to go-live later in 2023.
EU Member States with special arrangements:
Bulgaria and Romania are not yet part of the area without internal border checks (the 'Schengen area'). However, since August 2018, Bulgaria and Romania started fully using SIS. A Council Decision is still required for the lifting of checks at the internal borders of these two Member States.
Since Brexit the United Kingdom are no longer participate in SIS but continues to avail of other channels of cooperation.