European information systems in the area of justice and home affairs

Costica Dumbrava |Published in: European information systems in the area of justice and home affairs,  European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS)

cyber_aHigh levels of irregular migration and the increase in transnational terrorist activities have pushed the EU to take concerted measures to strengthen its external borders and to enhance internal security. The revision and development of information systems for border management and law enforcement has been a key aspect of this response.

As identified by the European Commission, the European information systems in the area of justice and home affairs have a number of important shortcomings related to: suboptimal functionalities, persistent information gaps, limited utilisation, fragmented overall architecture, and limited interoperability. To address these shortcomings, the Commission has put forward a series of proposals to revise existing information systems and to establish new ones.

A general trend has been the expansion of the law enforcement components of information systems, including of those that were not originally intended for such purposes. The recast Eurodac Regulation, which came into force in July 2015, allows for the use of the Eurodac database of asylum-seekers’ fingerprints for preventing, detecting and investigating terrorist offences and other serious crimes. Similarly, access to the Visa Information System was given to national law enforcement authorities and to Europol. While the use of information systems has improved in most cases, the full potential has not yet been reached. For example, alerts on foreign terrorist fighters are still not systematically inserted and checked in the Schengen Information System. Only a minority of Member States make use of Eurodac and the Visa Information System for law enforcement purposes. Member States’ contributions to databases remain uneven. For example, just five Member States have reported almost all the cases of verified foreign terrorist fighters recorded in the Europol Information System. Some Member States are not yet connected electronically to the Interpol stolen and lost documents database, as they have not yet implemented the Prüm framework. Although Europol was given access to most databases, it has not yet made full use of its access rights.

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Apart from taking measures to maximise the use and benefits of the information systems, the Commission has put forward legislative proposals aimed at expanding the scope of the existing systems. The proposals revising the Schengen Information System oblige Member States to issue alerts on persons related to terrorist offences and to introduce information about entry bans and return decisions in the system. The recast Eurodac Regulation makes it mandatory for Member States to collect data on thirdcountry nationals or stateless persons who have been apprehended crossing EU borders irregularly or remaining illegally on EU territory. The proposal for a revised criminal records information system enables authorities to determine which Member State holds criminal records of a third-country national.

In view of closing information gaps concerning persons who might pose a security threat but are not covered by the existing systems, the Commission has presented proposals to establish two new information systems. The entry/exit system will record entry and exit data from all third-country nationals (including from visa-exempt third countries) crossing Schengen borders. The European travel information and authorisation system will collect pre-arrival information on third-country nationals (including family members of EU citizens) travelling to the EU. The new information systems will be built to ensure interoperability with other relevant information systems, while ensuring data protection rules are respected.

Read the full EPRS In-Depth Analysis here.