EU: EU officials discuss interconnection of visa database and Schengen Information System

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The Visa Information System (VIS) launched in October 2011 and the Schengen Information System II (SIS II) began operating in April this year. Both of these vast European databases can hold tens of millions of pieces of data on people and property, and now EU officials are looking to move towards realising a long-held goal - the interconnection of the two systems.

On 9 April Matthias Taube, the head of the EU's Agency for Large-Scale IT Systems (EU-LISA, responsible for managing VIS, SIS II and EURODAC, the database of asylum-seekers' and irregular migrants' fingerprints) wrote to the Council's Working Party on Schengen Matters to raise the issue of when interconnection between the VIS and SIS II would take place. He referred to a meeting of the Council's Article 36 Committee on 19 February 2005, during which a "Commission representative explained that the necessary interconnection between SIS II and VIS could be established within eight months after the SIS II's entry into operation." At the time, it was foreseen that SIS II would start operations in March 2007.

Taube said it was deemed necessary to consult the Working Party as the chair of EU-LISA's management board "held the view that this was not a purely technical or operational question and that therefore the final decision could not be taken by the Management Board alone." [1]

He has asked for two questions to be considered in relation to the proposed interconnection:

  • Is this connection still necessary from an expert point of view?
  • Is the existing legal basis, in particular Article 27(3) of Regulation (EC) No 1987/2006 [the legal basis for SIS II], Article 7(3) of Regulation (EC) No 562/2006 [the Schengen Borders Code] and Council Decision 2008/633/JHA [giving law enforcement authorities access to the VIS], sufficient for this?

    In a meeting of the Working Party on Schengen Matters on 27 May, Taube presented his letter and the Working Party "exchanged views on the issue and agreed that the discussion should be continue in the SIS/VIS Committee," [2] a body which "anwers to the European Commission, reports to the European Parliament and takes formal decisions." It is "tasked with supporting the European Commission in line with the Commission's executive powers." [3]

    The SIS/VIS Committee do not appear to have discussed the issue yet, and while Taube pointed out that the decision to interconnect the two systems is not "a purely technical or operational question", it is unclear whether the Committee's deliberations will consider any other implications, for example relating to data protection and privacy.

    It seems that the main intended purpose of an interconnection between the SIS and the VIS, which operate using the same technical system, would be to make life easier for those authorities that are already permitted to conduct searches in both databases.

    The authorities responsible for issuing visas and residence permits are legally entitled to enter and search limited types of data in the SIS - "blank official documents which have been stolen, misappropriated or lost" and "issued identity papers such as passports, identity cards, driving licences, residence permits and travel documents which have been stolen, misappropriated, lost or invalidated." [4]

    Meanwhile, from 1 September, various law enforcement authorities will be permitted to search the VIS if they can prove it is necessary for the prevention, detection or investigation of terrorist offences or other serious criminal offences; if it is necessary in a specific case; and if there are reasonable grounds to believe that consultation of data in the VIS will "substantially contribute to the prevention, detection or investigation of any of the criminal offences in question." [5]

    Border guards are also permitted to consult both the SIS and VIS under Article 7(3) of the Schengen Borders Code.

    There have long been plans for "synergies" to be found between the SIS, VIS and other EU databases. Council Conclusions on the development of the VIS from 2004 said the "technical and financial impact of the following two access modes should be further assessed and implemented, if justified by synergy effects":

  • VIS-users should have access to consult SIS data via the Central Visa Information System (CS-VIS), as far as they are entitled to consult the SIS;
  • SIS-users such as police, immigration and border control authorities may consult VIS data via the SIS II infrastructure at central level, as far as they are entitled to consult the VIS.

    In 2003 and 2005 the Commission also called for increased "synergies" between the EU's internal security databases. [6] Last year, a Commission communication on the European Information Exchange Model (EIXM) noted that "interoperability between different national systems and administrative structures can yield benefits in terms of consistent procedures, shorter response times, better data quality and simplified design and development." It also said that, at the EU level, existing instruments "could and should be better implemented, and the exchanges [of information] should be organised more consistently." [7]
    Further reading

  • Law enforcement authorities to gain access to European visa database on 1 September, Statewatch News Online, 3 July 2013
  • Data protection supervisor's warning on EU police information exchange and interoperable databases, Statewatch News Online, May 2013
  • Schengen stalls, Prüm ploughs on: fingerprint, DNA and vehicle registration data exchange networks continue to expand, Statewatch News Online, April 2013
  • Schengen Information System (SIS II) goes live, Statewatch News Online, April 2013

    [1] Matthias Taube, SIS/VIS interconnectivity, 9 April 2013
    [2] Working Party for Schengen Matters, Outcome of proceedings, 9567/13, 27 May 2013
    [3] IT Projects Center’s (CPI) role in the chairmanship of groups in the EU Council, Centrum Projektów Informatycznych
    [4] Article 27(3), Regulation 1987/2006 and Article 38(2)(d) and (e), Council Decision 2007/533/JHA
    [5] Law enforcement authorities to gain access to European visa database on 1 September, Statewatch News Online, 3 July 2013
    [6] European Commission, Development of the Schengen Information System II and possibly synergies with a future Visa Information System (VIS), COM(2003) 771 final, 11 December 2003; European Commission, Communication on improved effectiveness, enhanced interoperability and synergies among European database in the area of Justice and Home Affairs, COM(2005) 597 final, 24 November 2005
    [7] European Commission, Strengthening law enforcement cooperation in the EU: the European Information Exchange Model (EIXM), COM(2012) 734 final, 7 December 2012

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