Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-247)|
Mr Philip Geering, Ms Carmen Dowd, Superintendent
Mike Flynn and Mr Rob Wainwright
1 NOVEMBER 2006
Q240 Lord Marlesford: The decision on
SIS II will allow the processing of data, other than for the purposes
of acting on alerts, in exceptional circumstances. What use do
UK authorities intend to make of this?
Superintendent Flynn: At the moment it is difficult
to envisage the use of the SIS in this way without looking at
a particular set of circumstances on which to answer the question.
Because SIS is very much a hit/no hit system where we are looking
for specific individuals and we have a match or we do not have
a match, there is very limited descriptive detail held in a Schengen
alert. It does not lend itself very readily to investigative purposes.
The reason for that is that the system is, we describe it as,
table driven. Because in the UK we want it to appear in English
on our screens and in Finland in Finnish, it is based on code
tables, so you get a specific value and that value is translated
into whichever is the language of the host nation. That limits
the amount of detail you have in the system. I will try to think
of an example. Say, for example, we had a terrorist outrage and
we had a description of a potential suspect. The first thing we
would do is look for somebody with those features within the police
national computer, but if we were looking at a case like that
we would immediately go to our colleagues in SOCA and ask for
bilateral communication with the other Member States because we
would be much more likely to get a match from them searching within
their national systems than any opportunity to go trawling in
the SIS, because the SIS is not at all sophisticated in that respect.
The procedures are already in place. If we asked France and Germany
if they would search their national systems for somebody of a
certain description, we would go through SOCA to achieve this
and the exchanges of information are already in place. Another
example might be we would be looking for a silver Mercedes. We
have half the index number. Nationally, we could search against
the UK databases to see if we could find a silver Mercedes with
a number like that. It would not be a reliable thing to do to
search the SIS for that because the SIS only has stolen motor
vehicles in there and not a complete vehicle database. Again,
we would go to SOCA and establish bilateral communication to see
if we could get other Member States to deal with that. Regarding
incoming requests, these would be requests probably coming in
through SOCA where SOCA would then contact the owners of the information.
That could be one of the constabularies or one of the agencies.
Again, in individual circumstances, if we were assisting another
country with an investigation and they had set out the circumstances,
the rules are already in place for the authorisations and exchanges
of information. Again, we would use SOCA as our gateway. The issue
for us here is that SIS is a compensatory measure for the removal
of frontier controls and therefore it is very much a border focused,
one-to-one match, hit/no hit system as opposed to a huge database
that you would want to go trawling in for investigative purposes.
It may be in future that we could agree with other Member States
that there would be purposes we could use it for. The discreet
check and specific check alerts, for example, clearly do have
an investigative angle because you are looking to use those to
trace the movements of people, linked vehicles and in the future
linked containers, aircraft and vessels. There obviously is a
move towards investigative in that area but I think there are
much more reliable databases and partnerships already in place
to allow us to do that.
Q241 Lord Marlesford: To recap, we should
always be thinking of SIS as a system of data for border control
in one form or another and other investigations, be they criminal
or terrorist or missing persons, are primarily done through other
agencies, particularly SOCA?
Superintendent Flynn: Yes, for border controls
but I think very much for police and Customs checks carried out
on your territory, because it gives you the opportunity to check
if something is lost or stolen, if somebody is wanted or missing.
Those are the types of purposes. It finds people and property
that are of interest now. It does not have any history to it.
If you want to go further on an investigation, then it is more
reliable to establish a bilateral relationship via SOCA to do
that. SIS tells you about people and property that are of interest
to Member States now.
Q242 Lord Marlesford: Going back to the
American system of fingerprints at borders, in theory a UK law
enforcement agency could ask the Americans, if they had a fingerprint
of a particular person and they wanted to know whether it had
arrived in the United States, "Can you check whether this
person has recorded fingerprints on entry within this particular
Mr Wainwright: Yes, we certainly could and we
Q243 Lord Marlesford: Do any other countries
take fingerprints at the borders of the EU? Do any EU countries
take fingerprints when you arrive?
Mr Wainwright: I am not aware of any but I may
Q244 Lord Marlesford: When they now swipe
passports in most European countries, is that swipe recorded?
It is after all essentially a Schengen information factor. Is
that swipe recorded and therefore available? In other words, if
you wanted to know if I had gone to Portugal, would you be able
to say to the Portuguese, "Has Marlesford's passport been
Superintendent Flynn: I think that might be
an example of where you are looking at a specific person or a
specific case and you would then go and ask for the permission
of that country: "Do you have this information and within
your legislation how would you release it to us?" It would
be very much on a specific inquiry that you would be looking to
get that rather than, "Please trawl your databases and tell
us anything you find." On that, one would be pursuing an
investigation and because of that it is very much not a general
trawl of the system. We are asking somebody, "Do you have
this information and are you entitled to release it to us?"
Q245 Chairman: What if the SIS data becomes
interoperable with other databases like Eurodac, for instance?
Does this have implications for us?
Mr Wainwright: It does. I can only think of
positive ones in terms of increasing yet further the field of
view effectively and cross-matching.
Q246 Earl of Caithness: Given what you
have said about the increase of benefit that SIS II will bring
to you, what operational procedures are being instituted within
the UK as well as other Member States, to your knowledge, to stop
fishing expeditions and to concentrate on going for alerts and
hits? With a bigger and better system, is there not a temptation
to go on fishing expeditions?
Mr Wainwright: I think there is that danger.
You are absolutely right. Again, you are relying on the integrity
of police officers in the Union. It is compensated by the fact
however that a substantial part of the information relating to
a particular casecertainly any sensitive information relating
to thatis not stored at the front end. It is not available
to the operator. It is stored as part of the SIRENE Bureau and
the access and the backup that the SIRENE Bureau has. That gives
us a measure of control over the most sensitive parts of the information.
Q247 Chairman: Can I now ask a question
of the Crown Prosecution Service? You said that SIS II was likely
to be very important for you but I think we have the impression
from the answers to our questions that in fact bilateral activity
is probably at the moment more important to us than SIS links.
Would you like to comment on that or indeed would you like to
add anything else, because I think the bulk of the answers have
tended to come from that side of the table and I am not sure that
we have given you sufficient opportunity to express your views.
Mr Geering: We anticipated that balance because
the responsibility for setting up and running SIS and the links
with other foreign jurisdictions is very much with the police
and SOCA. We anticipated taking a lesser role, so no offence taken.
Before SIS is up and running, the bilateral arrangements that
we have within Europe are essential to plug the gap. The point
is that SIS would provide a blanket, central European opportunity
to put out an alert. At the moment we can only target the country
where we think the suspect might be and not cover Europe in a
blanket fashion; whereas SIS will provide that blanket coverage.
If we were wrong and they had not gone to France but in fact had
gone to Germany, we would still pick them up. That is pretty exciting
in terms of prosecutors being able to take cases to court. We
spend all this time conducting investigations, preparing a prosecution,
lining up the witnesses. We are all ready to go to court and have
a trial to bring some justice, a guilty or not guilty verdict,
and the one person who really matters who preferably needs to
be thereI suppose who has the least interest in being therechooses
to abscond. We cannot allow the system to be held up in that way.
People do abscond and at the moment we rely on these bilateral
arrangements to attempt to identify them, trace them and bring
them back. SIS will give us a more proactive opportunity for tracing
these people, having them located and brought back. In a way,
that will be achieved more often and faster than current capabilities.
That is really important. The sooner cases are brought to court
the better, the better for victims to see some resolution of the
matter, the better for witnesses whose memories will be fading
and the better for the public to have confidence that the system
is actually doing the job. That is very much what we want. That
has been very much at the core of the reform of the CPS in the
past couple of years under this director, Ken McDonald. It has
been very much a part of seeing the CPS working in partnership
much more closely with the police and much earlier in cases than
was historically the case without letting go of our independence
and continuing to respect the independence of the police, recognising
that there is huge value in that partnership in delivering a better
Chairman: Thank you very much. May I
thank all of you for your very helpful answers to our questions?
You will be sent a transcript to check that you are accurately
recorded and if, on reading the transcript or indeed even before,
you think there are things which it would be helpful for us to
have in writing please feel free to let us have them. Thank you
very much indeed.