The Schengen Convention 1990 was an attempt to deal with the aim of creating a Europe without internal borders, specifically relating to the free movement of persons within the European Union. At present 25 Member States as well as Norway and Iceland are part of this free travel area. Ireland and the United Kingdom are not yet full members, though they have asked for limited participation as allowed under the Treaty of Amsterdam 1999. Currently, legislation is being drafted to implement the Schengen Convention into Irish Law.
The Schengen Convention applies, amongst other things, to the areas of visa policy, asylum policy, police cooperation, policy on drugs, and the free movement of persons. An information system, the Schengen Information System (SIS), was established to facilitate the exchange of data in these areas. As the data are of a personal nature, data protection safeguards have been put in place. These safeguards include supervision by the data protection authorities.
This information system can contain personal data supplied by Member States relating to missing persons; persons wanted as witnesses in criminal proceedings; persons wanted to answer charges in relation to criminal proceedings; persons wanted for arrest for extradition; aliens who have been refused entry or who are recommended to be refused entry.
Member States supply data to the Central SIS (CSIS) in Strasbourg, which then updates the various national systems (NSIS). Only bodies competent in the areas covered by Schengen may have access to the database. These bodies include police, customs, immigration and judiciary. The appropriate Irish bodies are likely to be designated in the implementing legislation currently being drafted, but should include An Garda Síochána.
In order to cope with the enlargement of the EU, a new SIS II is being developed. This is planned to have the capacity to deal with the increased membership.
The Schengen convention requires that a national supervisory authority exist in each Member State. It is likely that the Data Protection Commissioner will be designated as such a body in the new legislation. Data Subject Access Requests relating to SIS are to be made through the national authority. This function is likely to be that of the Data Protection Commissioner.
A Joint Supervisory Authority is established under Article 115 of the Schengen Convention. The Data Protection Commissioner is represented on this body in an observer capacity. In May 2002, the JSA stated that Ireland had met the data protection requirements for entry into Schengen.
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