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EU adds fingerprint search functionality to its border system

Matteo Natalucci Published 04 April 2018

Phase 1 of integrated project will introduce biometric search capability into Schengen Information System – but UK’s future commitment to use of beefed up SIS II system unclear post-Brexit


Phase 1 of the introduction of an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) into the Schengen Information System (SIS II) is set to go live tomorrow (April 5) in ten European states.

The European Union (EU) has announced the deployment of the first phase of the AFIS project on the biometric matching capabilities for SIS II, which will allow a person to be identified based on fingerprints stored in the European database.

Due to its partial participation in the Schengen acquis , the United Kingdom operates SIS II only within the scope of law enforcement cooperation. The UK started entering alerts into the SIS II system and consulting it on April 2015.

However, it is not clear yet what the UK commitment in the SIS II framework will be after Brexit. Depending on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, one of the possible scenarios sees the UK joining the Schengen Associated Countries club and continuing to use the SIS II only within the scope of law enforcement cooperation.

SIS II is a large-scale information system that supports law enforcement cooperation and external border control throughout the Member States of the European Union and Schengen Associated Countries (ex. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland).

The SIS II enables competent authorities, for example police officers and border guards, to enter and consult alerts on specific categories of wanted or missing persons and objects.

SIS II acts as an information sharing system between all the countries that use it and holds information in the form of "alerts". Each  Person alert  can contain biographical information such as name, date of birth, gender and nationality. In addition to this, SIS II can also store fingerprints and photographs of the person an alert is related to.

Although SIS II allows the storage of fingerprints, these are only used so far to confirm the identity of a person who has been identified following a check on his/her name and/or date of birth. Indeed, the SIS II central system database already contains many thousands of fingerprint records, but there was no fingerprint search capability at the central level. The SIS II AFIS allows all Member States to leverage on a centralised policing-oriented database. As such, AFIS provides the technology to identify a person on the basis of fingerprints held in SIS II.

Austria, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Switzerland confirmed that they will be ready to use the biometric queries from day 1.

Further work will take place to develop the AFIS' capabilities in Phase 2 which will be implemented in 2019.


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