A borderless Europe needs a defender. Its new generation is born

17. 8. 2023


Older generations will remember this. Long queues at the border, occasional butterflies in your stomach when the officer spends too long checking your documents. With the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union, checks at the borders of the member states have been abolished. This does not mean that borders are not protected. On the contrary. The Schengen Information System (SIS), for example, has been in operation for years, and in the last few weeks a new generation of SIS has been in place, forming one of the virtual shields of the Union's external and internal borders. Their defences are becoming more sophisticated, running continuously in the background, and there are already plans to improve them further. Specialists from Aricoma are involved in all this.

"Europe without borders is a huge advantage. However, for this to be possible, if something is stolen or done to you in the Czech Republic, there must be a system that enables you to effectively search for that thing or person," suggests Jan Vrána, head of the eGovernment division at Aricoma. The SIS is primarily used to control external borders, which are supposed to be "bulletproof". In the Czech Republic they are represented by international airports, in Slovakia by the border with Ukraine and in Germany by coastlines and ports. This already shows the different environments in which the system is used.

They're looking for documents and boats

"Primarily it is a search system. If you report that your car has been stolen or that a missing person is being sought, anyone checking the person according to their documents or the make of their car will see that a search is out for the item or person," says Vrána. European Union countries have agreed to collect information on 19 entities, including people, documents, cars, planes and ships. All this can be searched for in a coordinated way.

Potential hits and intersections with missing people or objects are sought in any contact with the security authorities - at airport or external border checks in the European Union, at every road check, or when security cameras capture people moving around on roads or in cities. Although the individual does not even realise it, during a routine roadside check, police officers check the driving and technical licence to look for potential matches in the database for the car (whether it is stolen) and the identity of the driver (if a search is out for him or he’s done something). In 2022 alone, the Czech Republic managed to track down more than 5,100 people and items entered into the SIS by other countries. And vice-versa, some 9,000 persons and items entered into the system by the Czech Republic were found abroad.

The rise of biometrics

It is already clear from this short description how much demand the software system places on developers. Its first version has been in operation since 1995 and the Czech Republic joined in 2007. The second generation was launched in 2013. All information from all countries is physically gathered at the system's headquarters in Strasbourg. "However, if all the officers kept querying the head office, it would be too many questions for them to handle. That's why some countries have national copies, the software part of which we created as a subcontractor for Hewlett-Packard. In practice, our work consists in the fact that there are about 30 sub-databases within the police, which are used to directly support the work of the police in various agendas. We are the concentrator and middle man between these national databases and the central Schengen system. If a police officer puts a search out for a Pavel Novák, our work ensures that the search is properly passed through to headquarters. If, on the other hand, a police officer receives Pavel Novák's passport at the airport, we evaluate that this query in a national copy," adds Vrána.

The version of SIS launched in March is referred to by its creators as generation 2.5; the official name is SIS II RECAST. It has had a new assignment and offers new opportunities to members of the security forces. Previously, the individual entities were sought separately, but it is now possible to specify that person XY drives a particular car, so that finding the car, which is not itself the subject of the search, can lead to the discovery of that person. The trend is also moving towards the increasing use of biometrics, specifically fingerprints and DNA.

"In the past, fingerprints were used as a reference, meaning that a person was found by alphanumeric data, such as date of birth, and if a police officer had the person there, he identified him by fingerprints. Now you can search directly by fingerprint," says Vrána, giving an example of the new feature. Another is dactyloscopic traces - these are typically found at crime scenes, but it is not clear at the time whether they belong to the perpetrator, the victim or a random passer-by. The new SIS can compare real people against traces, which is also done the moment someone enters a new record.

The sharing of similar information has been possible in the past. But it is now much easier and faster. There is also an intensive focus on the interoperability of different systems that work with identities -

to be able to confirm that the person who has applied for a visa in Ghana, for instance, is the very same person standing at the airport checkpoint in Prague. It can be expected that new features will be gradually implemented with the help of Komix specialists. They have been involved in the development of SIS since it was first launched in the Czech Republic.

"A borderless Europe is a huge advantage. However, for this to be possible, if something is stolen or done to you in the Czech Republic, there must be a system that enables you to effectively search for that thing or person."