Cyprus has recently stepped up its national security capabilities by gaining access to the Schengen Information System (SIS) on 25 July 2023.
The SIS, which houses data on 90 million individuals, is a critical tool for reducing illegal immigration and crime and locating missing persons more quickly. It should be noted, however, that Cyprus has not become a whole part of the Schengen area, and EU border controls remain in place.
What you should know
Cyprus submitted its Schengen Area membership application in September 2019 with aspirations to join the visa-exempt area soon. In December of the previous year, Cypriot authorities appealed to EU nations during a Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting, to allow them access to the Schengen Information System.
Since then, Cyprus has undergone successful assessment in five out of six Schengen areas. The evaluation includes protecting personal data, police cooperation with other Schengen Zones states, external borders, returns, visas, and consulates. The remaining sector includes the operation of the SIS.
As a platform for issuing alerts about individuals or objects within the Schengen Zone, inclusion in the Schengen Information System will significantly boost Cyprus’ public security, border control effectiveness, police collaboration, and return procedures.
What access to SIS means for Cyprus
Thanks to the SIS, the processing time for information transmitted between the authorities of various states will be shortened from days to minutes, making it the quickest data transfer system in Europe.
A police investigator in Cyprus can record information about a suspect in a criminal case. Then, within one or two minutes, a police officer or border guard in another country will be able to see the data and following this process allows legal bodies to arrest the citizen immediately.
To guarantee the legitimacy of handling personal data, Cyprus has established a national SIS database, a SIRENE office, and a data protection supervisory authority as requirements for access.
Apart from strengthening the country’s internal security, authorities expect the citizens in Cyprus to have little noticeable change in their daily life. However, each individual must notify law enforcement agencies when discovering any travel papers declared lost or stolen.
In cases where citizens do not report this, they are at risk of facing problems when traveling abroad.
Furthermore, through SIS, local authorities could locate persons on whom court documents must be served. In this case, the citizen will state his residence address so local authorities can send these documents to the respective citizen.
Cyprus is an active member state of both INTERPOL and EUROPOL. The country also maintains close cooperation relations with all liaison officers of other countries, whether based in Cyprus or the region, while utilizing the network of liaison officers of Greece through its liaison officer at the Cyprus embassy in Athens.
What essentially changes from 25 July 2023 and onwards is the accessibility of the Authorities of the Republic to register information in the SIS immediately. Within a few minutes, information will be visible and accessible by the corresponding authorities of the other member states without any other intervention. This technology is not available by any other System.
The integration with SIS vastly accelerates the time taken for information sharing between various state authorities, reducing it from days to mere minutes. This expedited data transfer system is the fastest in Europe and permits immediate action, such as arrests based on shared data.
To gain access to the system, Cyprus has set up a national SIS database, a SIRENE office, and a data protection supervisory authority to ensure the lawful handling of personal data.
The SIS system, while significantly enhancing internal security, will change little in the daily lives of Cypriot citizens. However, citizens need to inform police authorities about any found lost or stolen travel documents to avoid potential travel issues. The new system will also aid in serving court documents more efficiently.
Overall, while the country already maintains a strong international collaboration with INTERPOL, EUROPOL, and other countries’ liaison officers, access to the SIS fundamentally enhances Cyprus’ ability to register information instantly and share it with other member states’ authorities.