Sunday

15th Dec 2019

EU-wide database raises data protection concerns

A database used at the EU’s borders is raising concerns over how much sensitive information it will hold about citizens and the increased number of people who may have access to it.

The database, known as the Schengen Information System(SIS), was conceived eight years ago as a compensatory measure for lifting the internal borders within the EU (except the UK and Ireland).

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It is accessed at border posts and other locations and allows officials to retrieve information quickly on missing persons, arrest warrants, false passports and stolen vehicles.

However, with 10 new countries joining the EU bloc next year, a second generation of the SIS is being developed (SIS II), capable of processing more information and containing more data than the present system.

"The current system cannot cope with more than 18 Member States, and it is therefore outdated", Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino said on Monday evening (6 October) in the European Parliament.

Amongst the new functions currently proposed in SIS II, due to start operating in 2006, are the inclusion of biometric data (fingerprints, facial images) and access to certain categories of information by Europol - created to improve police cooperation between the Member States to combat terrorism and other serious forms of international crime - and Eurojust - which facilitates coordination among Member States' judicial authorities.

Fundamental changes in SIS

"The proposals would result in a fundamental change to the nature of the system", the Joint Supervisory Authority, the body that supervises the technical functioning of the SIS said in a statement.

"Whereas the SIS simply alerts the relevant authorities should a particular individual try to cross a Schengen border, the SIS II looks set to become a multi-purpose investigation tool".

The change in nature of the SIS II was also stated by Commissioner Vitorino himself.

"I think the SIS II is not just a pure database as SIS. The new generation has to be more sensitive on concerns for security and cross border crime".

What about data protection?

The prospect of a new system that allows authorities to share information on millions of individuals for a variety of purposes is raising the issue of what impact this will have on the rights of individuals, particularly the right to data protection.

The SIS currently contains about 11.3 million records. The number of records on wanted persons is estimated at 870,000; 770,000 of which are alerts on persons to be refused entry.

Data protection concerns have been voiced by the Joint Supervisory Authority and by various euro-parliamentarians from the Civil Liberties Committee.

In his draft report which is expected to be discussed in the committee in the following weeks, Portuguese Christian Democrat Carlos Coelho requests that each proposal for granting access to new authorities be thoroughly examined. In particular, which authorities need to have access to the SIS and what data they are allowed to access.

Moreover, proposals to allow Europol and Eurojust to transmit information to third countries are also raising concerns about lack of sufficient safeguards over the protection of data.

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