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EU: Official reports on EU databases show massive increases in "discreet surveillance" and asylum seeker fingerprinting
10 July 2015
Two new reports on EU databases have been released by the EU's Agency for Large-Scale IT Systems (eu-LISA), which is responsible for managing and developing the Schengen Information System (SIS), the Visa Information System (VIS) and Eurodac (used by Member States to compare the fingerprints of migrants and asylum seekers). The new reports concern SIS and Eurodac.
SIS is used by Member States' authorities to issue and search for alerts on wanted persons or objects. EU agencies Europol and Eurojust also have access. The most recent list of authorities formally granted access was published in late June. See:
List of competent authorities which are authorised to search directly the data contained in the second generation Schengen Information System (pdf)
Eurodac is used by the relevant national authorities to register and check the fingerprints and biographical details of asylum seekers and irregular migrants. The system can also be accessed by law enforcement agencies. In both cases, eu-LISA is responsible for managing a central database for the systems, which is accessed and updated by those Member State authorities with access.
Schengen Information System: massive increase in those tagged for "discreet checks" at the border
eu-LISA, Report on the technical functioning of Central SIS II and the Communication Infrastructure, including the security thereof and the bilateral and multilateral exchange of supplementary information between Member States (pdf)
eu-LISA, SIS II - Report on the technical functioning (fact sheet, pdf)
The report on the SIS is mainly technical - dealing with network and security issues - but it also contains some statistics that demonstrate its enormous size:
"At the end of the reporting period (31 December 2014), the system contained almost 56 million alerts, which makes it the largest database for public security in Europe. In 2014 the number of alerts increased by over 11% compared to... 31 December 2013... Since the entry into operation on 9 April 2013, when there were almost 47 million alerts, the increase was over 19%."
The vast majority of these alerts relate to objects sought by the authorities: aircraft, banknotes, blank documents, boats, firearms, industrial equipment, issued documents, securities/means of payment or vehicles. However, a considerable number relate to people: wanted for arrest or extradition, "unwanted aliens", missing persons, "localisation", and persons tagged for "discreet surveillance or specific checks". This last category of alert are known as Article 36 alerts.
Statistics on the number of each type of alert stored in the system are not yet available for 2014. However, the IT Agency's "technical report" does list the number of "hits" - that is, the "finding of wanted persons and objects" - for each category.
The number of hits on Article 36 alerts grew massively in 2014 compared to the previous year. In 2013, the number of hits on foreign alerts was 14,169, and the number of hits abroad on country's own alerts was 13,424. In 2014 these categories had grown to 23,942 and 23,222 respectively.
It is likely that the sigificant increase in the amount of "discreet surveillance" undertaken is due to attempts by the EU and Member States to intensify the monitoring of suspected "foreign fighters" heading to Syria and Iraq. As the IT Agency's report notes:
"During the second semester of 2014, urgent technical changes related to recommendations in the context of counter-terrorism were endorsed by the SISVIS Committee and planning for implementation was initiated by eu-LISA in the very short term. The changes related to relevant codes tables, definition of new business rules and the check on compatibility of alerts. In practice, the changes allow the authorities having access to the system to trigger immediate actions towards the appropriate SIRENE Bureau as well as the display of the invalidated travel documents which should be seized."
For more on this issue, see:
Schengen Information System: 41,000 people subject to "discreet surveillance or specific checks" (Statewatch News Online, 9 September 2014)
EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator: Follow-up to the statement of the Members of the European Council of 12 February 2015 on counter-terrorism: Report on implementation of measures (pdf, 9422/15)
EURODAC: Massive increases in data stored and Member State access
eu-LISA, Annual report on the 2014 activities of the Central System of Eurodac pursuant to Article 24(1) of Regulation (EC) No 2725/2000 (pdf)
eu-LISA, Annual report on the 2014 activities of Eurodac (fact sheet, pdf)
The report on Eurodac covers the period from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2014. The number of fingerprint sets stored in Eurodac's central database has increased by 330,00 compared to the figures for 2013:
"At the end of the reporting period on 31 December 2014, there were 2,707,339 sets of fingerprints stored in the Central System, comprising both category 1 data and category 2 data together29. This represented an increase of 14% compared to the data stored at the end of 2013 when there was a total of 2,378,008 sets of fingerprints and an increase of 18% compared to the amount of data stored by end of December 2012 (when there were 2,295,670 fingerprint sets)."
Out of the 2.7 million sets of fingerprints stored in the system, the number of people exercising their right to access and, if necessary, correct the data stored on them is tiny: "In 2014 there were a total of 26 category 9 transactions." Category 9 is the type of search carried out by a Member State on behalf of an individual seeking access to their data.
Furthermore, despite the ongoing increase in the number of fingerprints stored in the system, the number of access requests is decreasing:
"Compared to previous reporting periods, the volume of category 9 transactions is steadily decreasing. A decrease of 47% was registered compared to 2013 data (when 49 category 9 transactions were executed), and a decrease of 77% compared to data registered in 2012 (when 111 category 9 transactions were executed)."
This decline contrasts sharply with the growth in Member States' use of the system:
"During the reporting period, the Central System processed a total of 756,368 transactions, an increase of 49% compared to the traffic observed in 2013 when the total transactions were 508,565. In a period of two years, the volume of transactions almost doubled, with an 84% increase in transactions observable compared to 2012."
These increases mainly relate to asylum seekers and "persons apprehended when irregularly crossing external borders":
"In 2014, a total of 505,221 transaction related to asylum seekers (category 1 data) were registered, an increase of 43% compared to data from 2013; the main contributor for this type of data was Germany, as in previous years. A notable increase was also observed for transactions related to persons apprehended when irregularly crossing external borders (category 2 data) - an increase of 112% was apparent relative to data from 2013. In 2014, Italy submitted 42% of category 2 transactions and Greece 32%, very similar to those made in 2013."
For an overview of Eurodac's growth and development since the system was launched in 2003, see:
Chris Jones, '11 years of Eurodac' (pdf)
The report also mentions the issue of forced fingerprinting, which been high on the political agenda recently as the EU and Member States try to ensure that all those whose data is supposed to be stored in the system are actually registered by Member States. It has been agreed that this may permit the use of force and detention against pregnant women and minors, if Member States' authorities deem it necessary. See:
Briefing: Coercive measures or expulsion: fingerprinting migrants (pdf)
EU: FORCIBLE FINGERPRINTING, DETENTION, EXPULSION & ENTRY BAN of MIGRANTS including pregnant women and minors (Statewatch News Online, May 2015)
There is no mention of the number of times law enforcement agencies have obtained data from the system. This controversial power was handed to law enforcement authorities when the legislation underpinning Eurodac was redrafted in 2013. See:
European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee adopts proposal giving law enforcement authorities and Europol access to Eurodac (Statewatch News Online, December 2012)
EURODAC: Council of the European Union: Common European Asylum System: Council adopts the Eurodac regulation (Statewatch News Online, June 2013)