Schengen Information System: 41,000 people subject to "discreet surveillance or specific checks"

The number of people listed in the Schengen Information System (SIS) for "discreet surveillance or specific checks" by European law enforcement authorities reached 41,097 at the end of December 2013, an increase of nearly 128% over the last decade.

On 1 January 2005, a total of 18,031 people were the subject of alerts under Article 99 of the Schengen Convention, which mandated "discreet surveillance or specific checks" (such as searches of vehicles or objects carried). [1]

By 31 December 2013 - when the relevant legislation was Article 36 of the 2007 Council Decision on the second-generation SIS, or SIS II [2] - this number had grown to 41,097, an increase of 127.9%.

There are two types of alert that can be entered under Article 36. The first, based on Article 36(2) is "for the purposes of prosecuting criminal offences and for the prevention of threats to public security". An alert should be issued:

(a) where there is clear indication that a person intends to commit or is committing a serious criminal offence, as referred to in Article 2(2) of the European Arrest Warrant;
(b) where an overall assessment of a person, in particular on the basis of past criminal offences, gives reason to suppose that that person will also commit serious criminal offences (defined as above) in the future.

Alerts can also be entered on the basis of Article 36(3). This says:

"In addition, an alert may be issued in accordance with national law, at the request of the authorities responsible for national security, where there is concrete indication that the information referred to in Article 37(1) [person for whom an alert has been issued; place, time or reason for check; route and destination of journey; accompanying persons; vehicle used; objects carried; circumstances] is necessary in order to prevent a serious threat by the person concerned or other serious threats to internal or external national security."

The UK College of Policing's guidance on SIS II says:

"Officers should only use Article 36 alerts when they need to gather information discreetly. The alert should also benefit an investigation or public protection.

"Article 36 alerts are useful for monitoring the movements of persons, vehicles and containers, particularly those involved in organised or cross-border crime, trafficking and sex crimes. There is little financial implication for UK law enforcement agencies (LEAs) when using this resource.


"When officers encounter an Article 36 alert, they must discreetly collect as much information as possible and send a PNC [Police National Computer] response, which includes the alert's SISID number, to the UK SIRENE Bureau." [3]

This year's report [4] is the first produced by the EU Agency for Large-Scale IT Systems (euLISA), which is primarily responsible for the operation of SIS II. Annual statistical reports are mandated by Article 66(3) of the SIS II Decision, which says:

"Each year the Management Authority shall publish statistics showing the number of records per category of alert, the number of hits per category of alert and how many times SIS II was accessed, in total and for each Member State."

euLISA's report does not contain separate figures for Article 36(2) and (3) alerts, which were listed in previous years' statistics. A spokesperson for euLISA told Statewatch that separate statistics "are not publicly available" and failed to answer further questions on the issue.

The report notes that there were 14,169 "hits" by the authorities on Article 36 alerts between 1 April 2013 (when SIS II became operational) and 31 December 2013. This represents "the finding of wanted persons and objects".

At least some of the increase in Article 36 alerts is due to a French-led project that seeks to advise EU Member States on the enhanced use of Article 36 alerts for monitoring suspected "foreign fighters" travelling to Syria and Iraq. This was one of 22 tasks contained in an action plan on foreign fighters put forward in May 2013 by the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator and European External Action Service. [5]

In January this year the French delegation to the Council's Terrorism Working Party announced "a significant increase" in the use of Article 36 alerts "due to the improved tool and specific awareness campaign". [6]

In June 2014 the Justice and Home Affairs Council approved conclusions on "terrorism and border security" that called for SIS II and the Visa Information System (VIS) to be "fully exploited" for "counter-terrorism purposes". [7]

Number of "unwanted aliens" in Schengen database drops for fifth year running

Meanwhile, the number of "unwanted aliens" registered in the Schengen Information System - those barred from re-entering or wanted for expulsion from the Schengen area - has decreased for the fifth year running.

Re-entry bans generally last for up to five years, although in extreme cases they can be longer. The Netherlands, for example, issues 10 year bans for public order purposes, and 20 year bans for "issues of public order and national security". [8] The relevant EU legal provision is Article 11 of the Returns Directive. [9]

On 1 January 2013 there were 659,347 "unwanted aliens" listed in the system, which over the course of the year fell to 623,203 - a drop of 36,144. The number of people barred from the Schengen area listed in the database has fallen by 123,791 since 2009, when information on 746,994 was held in the system.

There are significant disparities between states' use of alerts on people (as opposed to objects). Disaggregated statistics for different categories of person (i.e. "unwanted aliens", suspects, missing persons) are not provided in euLISA's report.

Germany is responsible for 76,302 alerts on persons, France 125,058, while the authorities in Italy are responsible for 294,101 alerts on wanted persons, the highest number of any Schengen state. Statewatch has compiled information from the last ten years showing the number of people registered in the SIS under various categories. [10]

Italy is also far and away the biggest contributor to alerts in the database overall. The country currently "owns" over 16 million alerts (32.2% of the total), followed by Germany with 7.5 million alerts. The picture was similar more than ten years ago, with Italian alerts significantly outnumbering others. [11]

Increases in every other category

Meanwhile, the amount of data for every other category in the system increased over the course of 2013:

  • Banknotes: 257,869 to 265,968
  • Blank documents: 697,097 to 768,620
  • Firearms: 421,194 to 431,121
  • Issued documents: 38,901,431 to 39,836,478
  • Vehicles: 5,071,806 to 5,556,042 (combining the SIS II categories of vehicles and vehicle registration documents)
  • Wanted persons: 885,907 to 891,900

The vast increase in the number of alerts on blank documents would appear to indicate lax security procedures across the EU, although as with wanted persons a few Member States have significantly higher figures than other Member States.

As of 31 December 2013 Italy had filed 382,194 alerts on blank documents, followed by Germany with 154,369 and Greece with 99,134. France owned 72,413 alerts at the end of 2013, followed by Belgium with 30,094. From then on the numbers sink into the low thousands or less; Romania owns one blank document alert. Bulgaria, Estonia and Lithuania have issued no alerts on blank documents.

SIS II also provides for new categories of data, with the database containing the following number of alerts at the end of 2013:

  • Aircraft: 7
  • Boats: 1,046
  • Boat engines: 1,691
  • Industrial equipment: 4,252
  • Securities/means of payment: 394,918

Further reading

[1] Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985 between the Governments of the States of the Benelux Economic Union, the Federal Republic of Germany and the French Republic on the gradual abolition of checks at their common borders
[2] Council Decision 2007/533/JHA of 12 June 2007 on the establishment, operation and use of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II)
[3] College of Policing, 'Schengen Information System (second generation) SISII', 8 September 2014, p.24-5
[4] euLISA, 'SIS II - 2013 Statistics', June 2014
[5] EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, 'Foreign fighters and returnees from a counter-terrorism perspective, in particular with regard to Syria', 9946/13, 28 May 2013
[6] Terrorism Working Party, 'Summary of discussions', 5421/14, 21 January 2014
[7] General Secretariat of the Council, 'Draft Council conclusions on Terrorism and Border Security', 9906/14, 16 May 2014
[8] Immigration and Naturalisation Service, 'Entry ban', accessed 8 September 2014
[9] Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the council of 16 December 2008 on common standards and proecdures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals
[10] Schengen Information System: database contents (pdf), compiled by Statewatch, September 2014
[11] 'Three-quarters of a million "illegal aliens" banned from Schengen area', Statewatch News Online, April 2005

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