What is the Schengen Information System (SIS)?
Published on: 26 December 2020

The Schengen area was conceived according to the principle of freedom of movement, with the goal of improving the quality of life for the zone’s residents and travelers. A critical aspect of this principle is the notion that increased freedom should not come at the expense of security; that residents could experience expanded travel opportunities while enjoying the safety inherent to hard national borders. Doing away with internal border checks between the 26 Member States (one of the tenants of the Schengen Agreement) increased the need for other collective security measures applicable across the Schengen area. The Schengen Information System (also known as the SIS Schengen) is one of these tools; a system launched with the goal of increasing collective Schengen security by strengthening cooperation on security issues between the majority of EU and Schengen states. 

Read on for more information about the SIS Schengen information system, and for the answers to basic questions, such as, “which countries is SIS in operation?” as well as for information about the SIS II, intended to launch in late 2021.

Schengen Information System

  • The SIS Schengen is a kind of information system employed by relevant European state authorities, which enables various law enforcement agencies, border control agents, customs agencies, and other entities in charge of visas examinations and issuances to share information critical to Europe’s internal security. 
  • The Schengen information system is grounded in its alert system, which enables the above valid users to receive and share alerts about objects (such as cars, equipment, and passports) and people, and includes additional guidelines for how to proceed once they intercept them. 
  • “People” can fall under a number of categories, including missing persons, those sought for arrest, and individuals from outside the Schengen area who have been refused stay or entry into the zone (or entry into a particular Member State). SIS therefore can issue alerts for people who fall under these and other categories. 
  • The SIS consists of over 76 million records and has been used over 5 billion times, making it the biggest and most frequently accessed security data sharing system on the continent. 
  • The safety and security of Europe is the first priority of the SIS Schengen information system. 
  • The SIS is grounded in the belief that increasing communication between the various individual law enforcement agencies throughout the Schengen countries will improve the collective safety and security of Europe. 

How does the SIS Schengen work?

  • Individual Schengen countries have their own national bureaus responsible for managing and passing on SIS information, known as SIRENES (Supplementary Information Request at the National Entries), which operate round the clock, and oversee the processing of alerts.   
  • Here is an example of how the SIS would work in practice in the context of border control cooperation: Let’s say that the national police force of one Schengen state discovers information about the security risk posed by a third country national who has recently been approved for a Schengen visa but has yet to enter the Schengen area. If this national police force discovers that this new visa holder intends to commit a serious crime in another Schengen country, they could send out a general alert warning of the potential threat his entry would pose. This alert, which would be visible to all relevant border control and law enforcement agencies, would be processed by each country’s respective SIRENE bureau, and ultimately be visible by border control agents at the criminal’s prospective point of entry. Viewing the alert, they would refuse him entry, and thereby avert a potential threat to the security of the Schengen area.  

Freedom and Security 

  • The SIS is one of the primary tools which facilitates the freedom of movement of the Schengen area’s residents: the guiding principle of the Schengen area and the true purpose for its creation.
  •  Having essentially done away with physical border restrictions between Schengen countries, the Schengen area allows freedom of movement between and across Member States, for residents as well as for certain kinds of third-country travelers (such as those on Schengen visas). 
  • Freedom of travel is therefore achieved by security tools like the SIS, which gives peace of mind to residents and travelers alike by performing tasks critical to collective security. 
  • These tasks take the form of cooperation in the following areas: law enforcement, border control, and vehicle registration. 

In which countries is SIS in operation?

  • The SIS Schengen is in use across Europe, throughout the European Union and Schengen area, and is active within a total of 30 countries. 
  • SIS is therefore used in all 26 Schengen countries and in 25 of the 27 EU states, minus Ireland and Cyprus, which are expected to ultimately join SIS. 
  • In addition to the SIS countries, there are also a number of states that have various unique arrangements with the SIS and therefore have various degrees of access to its data and mechanisms, despite not yet being fully party to the system. These include: the United Kingdom, Ireland. Cyprus, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania. 

About the SIS II

  • The second phase of SIS (often referred to as SIS II) should launch in December 2021, when it will include upgrades and enhancements to the current system across key fields, including data sharing, security (anti-terrorism), biometrics, non-regular migration, at-risk individuals, and greater access for authorized law enforcement authorities, including the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and Europol.  
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