|– VIS scheduled to “go-live” on October 11th
– SIS II will be “ready for entry into operation during the first quarter of 2013”The Visa Information System (VIS) and the second-generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) are two of the more ambitious IT systems being developed by the European Union. The key purpose of both systems is to permit the state surveillance and/or detection of particular persons or items and, in particular, non-EU nationals.The VIS is a system designed to provide the relevant authorities of each Member States access to information on applications made for, and conditions attached to, visas granted for EU Member States. The aim is to facilitate visa applications; prevent ‘visa shopping’; help combat fraud; facilitate checks at external and internal borders; assist in identifying any person no longer eligible for entry, stay or residence in EU territory; facilitate the application of the Dublin II regulation on determining which state is responsible for an asylum application; and last – but certainly not least – the system will “contribute to the prevention of threats to the internal security of any of the Member States.” The information to be entered into the VIS includes alphanumeric data such as the applicant’s name, age, gender, address, destination and duration of stay, and much more. The VIS is capable of holding up to 70 million records, and further identification will be provided through the inclusion of a photograph and the ten fingerprints of every applicant. 
SIS II, meanwhile, is intended to act as an upgrade to the original Schengen Information System. The second-generation system will be used for the same reasons as the first, which is to to ensure that ‘competent authorities’ are able to access information about persons wanted for arrest for extradition
purposes; third-country nationals who should be refused entry to the Schengen area; missing persons; witnesses; persons and vehicles to be subjected to surveillance; objects sought for the purposes of seizure or use of evidence.  SIS II now requires the capacity for between 70 and 100 million alerts. It seems likely that the new system will move beyond its ‘reporting’ function, to enable its use for investigative work. This development, with potentially enormous implications, occurred without any input from the national or European parliaments or civil society organisations. 
Perhaps unsurprisingly for such large-scale IT projects, both have been subject to significant delays and setbacks. Recent reports, however, indicate the timetables for both systems are now fixed. If so, the VIS will come into use as of October this year, with SIS II following in early 2013.
The Visa Information System
North Africa is the “first region of deployment” for the VIS, and all the consulates of every Member State must:
“[N]otify the Commission that they have made the necessary technical and legal arrangements to collect and transmit alphanumeric and biometric data for all applications in the first region.” 
A mission to obtain “information about the level of preparedness in Member State consulates” was dispatched to Cairo last December, which found that “technical training session and communication efforts need to be intensified.”  A number of similar missions will therefore be undertaken in other North African cities in the months leading up to October, in order to try and meet the current deadline for the launch of the system. It has been EU policy to make North Africa the testing bed for the VIS since at least 2005,  and with the area considered “high risk” six years ago, work on the VIS will likely have taken on a new urgency since the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and the outbreak of war in Libya. A range of new initiatives have been announced in recent months, and are in many ways aimed at stemming the flow of undesirable migrants from the region.  If the VIS can be made to function as intended, it will play a significant role in these initiatives.
The Schengen Information System II
The highly controversial second-generation SIS has gone through a number of crises. One recent, in-depth study suggests that the entire project is “considerably over-budget and with no guarantee of completion,”  and that its development has been marked by secrecy, a lack of scrutiny, and a logic driven by “(in)security”  The Commission has recently published its own figures, claiming that of €172,353,855 committed to the project, only €80,731,252, or just under 47% of the total, has been spent. Perhaps notably, these figures only cover the period from 2002 until the end of 2010.  The same report contained optimistic statements regarding the likelihood of the system entering into operation on time. With the revised “global schedule” now “an integral part of the contract”, extensive testing will take place over the next 30 months, leaving the system “ready for entry into operation during the first quarter of 2013.” 
Yet a “contingency plan” remains in place. An agreement between the Commission and France exists that would permit the use of a technical solution based on a development of the SIS1+ system, should SIS II fail its “second milestone tests”.  SIS1+ is itself a rehash of the original SIS, and was developed due to delays in the development of SIS II. It it becomes necessary to use this backup, the French authorities may have to issue a new call for tender by the French authorities, as the contractual basis for this has expired.
Work designed to ensure the smooth functioning of the system is ongoing, with “data cleansing” for the purposes of shifting from SIS to SIS II named as a priority of the Polish Presidency.  Particular attention is being paid to Article 96 alerts, which deal with “aliens for whom an alert has been issued for the purposes of refusing entry” to the Schengen area.  The Presidency’s questionnaire to Member States on cleansing data related to Article 96 alerts puts this more directly: those listed under Article 96 are simply “unwanted persons.”  An EU Entry/Exit System, considered an essential part of the EU’s ‘smart borders’ program, seeks to overcome some of the limitations of the SIS regarding those individuals considered unwanted. If developed it would:
“[R]ecord the time and place of entry and length of authorised stay. In case someone would overstay the period allowed, an alert would be transmitted to the competent authorities that could take further steps.” 
It would thus help to clear up some of the ‘loose ends’ left trailing by the current system.
Scrutiny and surveillance
Along with the surveillance of air (and possibly land and sea) travel through Passenger Name Record (PNR) data; plans for an EU Registered Traveller Programme; an EU entry/exit system to record border crossings by third country nationals; an electronic system of travel authorisation; the European external border surveillance system (EUROSUR); and the strengthening of FRONTEX, the VIS and SIS II are meant to complement the EU’s plan for what it calls integrated border management.  What this adds up to is a system of border management that looks an awful lot like a high-tech, high-security system designed to stringently police the movement of persons and reinforce the ability of the European Union to protect itself from outsiders deemed unnecessary and unwanted. Such plans are also characterised by high degrees of risk.
Most importantly, attempts by migrants to cross the European border involve increasingly high-risk strategies, adding to the numbers of deaths in the Mediterranean and elsewhere.  SIS II and the VIS are both intended to reinforce both the internal and external aspects of border control. The faith placed in information technology by state authorities is also risky, permitting as it does increased reliance on the workings of highly complex computer systems. The individuals operating them may not necessarily adhere to fundamental rights standards,  and as demonstrated by the years of development that have gone into the VIS and SIS II, plans for such large-scale systems are frequently delayed by unforeseen technical and political issues. However, if recent reports emanating from the Commission are to be believed, then it may not be too long before these two systems, long-desired by EU institutions, working groups, and agencies within the European Union, finally begin to function.
 Regulation (EC) No 767/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 July 2008 concerning the Visa Information System (VIS) and the exchange of data between Member States on short-stay visas (VIS Regulation), Recital 5
Source: Statewatch News online
Small steps to big brother: the development of the Visa Information System and the Schengen Information System II is back on track