Statewatch article: RefNo# 27624
The dream of total data collection - status quo and future plans for EU information systems
Statewatch Bulletin; vol 16 no 5/6 August-December 2006
The broad use and the extension of EU information systems in the field of policing and especially policing of immigration is a clear indication of the EU growing together - but in a way that is not desirable.

Justice and home affairs policy in the EU is about to make a technological quantum leap: the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) was expected to go online in 2007. The new system marks a generational change, not only in terms of the technology it uses but also in terms of the data it contains. Biometrics has now become a central component of EU police data systems and the Commission is already planning "interoperability" with other systems: namely, with the Visa Information System (VIS) which was also expected to go online in 2007, and with Eurodac, the database which has been used since 2003 to collect and compare fingerprints of asylum seekers at the EU level. In November 2005, Europol started its "information system" and thereby finalised - for the time being - its information technological instrument.

Only 25 years ago, it would have been unthinkable that data collection would exceed the national framework. This was not only due to technical but also political barriers. The first attempt to introduce such as system for Interpol failed in 1981 on grounds of sovereignty questions and a lack of trust towards the professional standards of the National Central Bureaux of particularly Third World countries.

In comparison, the SIS, for which the concrete planning began in 1988, could build on a political framework. At first, on that of the Schengen Group and from 1999 onwards, on that of the EU, with the coming into force of the Amsterdam Treaty. In March 1995 it went online, initially only for then seven participating states. Currently, 15 states are connected, namely, the "old" EU Member States excluding the UK and Ireland and including the non-EU states Norway and Iceland.

The first step - the SIS

The fact that the development of EU police data systems started with a system for wanted persons and objects such as the SIS is no coincidence: Wanted persons/objects systems are "hit/no hit" systems which only allow for simple queries. They indicate if data on a relevant person or object exists or not. Data entries in the SIS are (as yet) very small. Next to details on identity, personal data entries merely contain the specification of the alerting authority and the reason for the alert, as well as a possible indication "violent" or "armed". The exchange of background information relating to the alerts - in case of a "hit" - takes place outside of the SIS via the SIRENE national contact points that are located in the national police centres - in Germany, for example, in the Federal Criminal Investigation Bureau (Bundeskriminalamt - BKA).

At the same time, alerts are data which should be broadly available within police organisations so that the basic police forces - i.e. officers controlling at the borders and inland - can take relevant law enforcement measures. Altogether 30.000 terminals were connected to the SIS within the EU in 1995. Today, the number of German terminals connected alone, exceeds this number considerably: the Federal Police (the renamed Border Guard) and customs have around 1.700 stationary and mobile terminals at their disposal at the borders. In addition, SIS data can be accessed to a large extent through the working place computers connected to INPOL (the central police data system in Germany). As a recent parliamentary question by Linkspartei MPs (the Left-Wing Party) revealed, this amounts to "approximately" 10,500 computers located with the Federal Police and customs. There are no figures concerning the regional police forces. (1)

Alerts for objects - such as bank notes (registered notes), arms, vehicles, identity papers and blank documents - massively dominated the SIS from its initiation. Explanatory remarks on alerts for the years 2003 and 2006

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