Nine new states have joined the European border-free zone. There are now 24 nations in the Schengen agreement. Countries such as Ukraine complain that they now have to pay 35 Euros and negotiate a bureaucratic net before getting a visa whereas these were formerly free and easy to obtain. However, our leaders seem happy and EU 's President Barrosso was at the celebrations. The Schengen system rests on a database rather unfortunately called the SIS (Schengen Information System), this is in addition to EURODAC,VIS, API, APP, SIRENE and to come, PNR like the American model about which there have been protestations from politicians. There has been so much angst expressed about ID cards recently in the UK you would have thought that there would have been some mention of these EU databases.
The LibDems and the Conservatives are against ID cards but don't mention how these objections are reconciled with the need for EU wide data processing of most areas of our lives. How can the EU have a harmonised system of nearly everything if the member countries cannot share information about individuals and vehicles, when there is free movement of people and goods? The system to facilitate this is called IDABC, this proposes eID interoperability for Pan-European e Government Services(PEGS) by 2010.
The UK and Eire have not signed Schengen. We have nonetheless paid our full whack for the development of the system, a snip at £39 million. Despite this we have no access to any of the immigration information, just that relating to criminal matters. Unfortunately the system cannot differentiate between 'undesirable' aliens who have committed no crime and other immigration information and as we are not entitled to this information well, tough. We only need to lift our border controls, such as they are, and we could get all this information .
We could, that is, if we could get our IT systems right. It's been operational since 1995 and we should have linked by 2004. There is SIS No1 and now there is SIS No2 but the latter is experiencing a few difficulties so we have the SIS one4all system to run parallel to SIS No1 for the 9 new states until SIS No2 gets going. My brain is beginning to bleed with this and that is why they get away with things like this; people are bored stiff and give up the ghost and think it is all inevitable. Anyway, we did intend to be ready in time for SIS No2 but are a little delayed.
Firstly there was that fire at Buncefield which destroyed the computer infrastructure designed to connect to SIS. The Police National Computer's back up system was also destroyed hence that backlog of files at the Home Office. Anyway, we could be ready now by 2011.
Liam Byrne (Minister for Borders and Immigration) was unable to reply to a question as to how many UK citizens have had their data placed on the SIS (Jan 2007) He replied that:"this information is not held centrally and can be obtained only at disproportionate cost". So much for data security and freedom of information. Another problem was evidently that we have too many constabularies which would need to access the system. Hence we should have had neat regionalised police forces. Now, SIS 11 is a 'state of the art system' which will replace SIS so as to include the new Schengen countries and allow the introduction of biometric data. Belgium, Spain, Austria, Holland, Luxemburg and Germany signed Schengen No3 in 2005. This is a shared system of national databases to store DNA, fingerprints,vehicle ID and info on criminals and to provide armed security escorts on planes. So we are way behind. In one way that's good but on the other hand we can have even less confidence that our government has a clue as to who is in the country.
The House of Lords EU committee seemed very worried about SIS No2. It states that:
A project of this importance and magnitude needs to be developed openly and publicly. It potentially affects not just EU citizens, but also hundreds of thousands of non-EU citizens who may wish to travel or reside in the EU.
It is unacceptable for a project with such cost and resource implications to be developed without a prior full impact assessment, and a full legislative explanatory memorandum. The government should press for greater transparency in the future development of the project, including the award of contracts.
The European Data Protection Supervisor is also worried see here.
With so many people moving into and around the EU surely isn't sensible to keep a check on them all? In 2005 nearly 10 million identity papers had been stolen, misappropriated and lost, by 2007 this figure was nearly 14 million. (In comparison UK had 290,000 passports lost or stolen). So, the SIS doesn't seem to be doing so well in combating identity fraud. The Lords also sensibly asked who would have access to the data and why and who would be able to imput data? Data Protection also concerns the Lords. The data will be shared between countries with poor records in this matter and also with third countries such as the USA and agencies such as Europol and Eurojust; the list goes on.
It's a mess and I doubt many people even understand that there is a mess much less what it is. What an opportunity for fraud, blackmail, identity fraud you name it. The Bulgarians and Italians, amongst others, aren't exactly famed for their political probity. Thousands of people will have access to records of millions of people and they won't even have to load a disc. In March 2003 there were 125,000 terminals with access to SIS. How many now? Who knows, the Lords certainly weren't being told.
Now here in the UK we have more health records going missing. Well, the EU Healthcare directive will no doubt come in soon so, there needs to be a database. If all our main UK parties want to be part of a federal Europe and so be part of the data mess and risk that comes with the territory, then there is no way round it. All we can do is make sure our information isn't held. Sign in to the Big Opt Out and make a NO2ID pledge not to comply with the ID database. We're clutching at straws. The other hope is that no-one really has a grip on all these databases so it will all implode under a fog of bureaucracy. Jaroslav Hašek's [i] The Good Soldier Švejk [i] showed how to undermine nonsense and bureaucracy just before the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Here's hoping.
SIS 1= SIS no1 and SIS 11= SIS no2. SIS 111 = SIS no 3 -to prevent confusion!