Assignment #4: The Schengen Information System and the (un)Desirability of Movement

The Schengen Information System (colloquially referred to as SIS) is a governmental database containing a variety of data on individuals, vehicles and objects of interest for the purposes of border control, law enforcement and national security (Brouwer 2008). The Schengen Agreement, signed in 1985, was an accord struck by 5 of the then 10 EU member states to abolish internal border controls for the purposes of standardizing international travel between nation-states comprising the Schengen Area, which itself was formally established in 1995 (ibid). Citizens of member states are able to travel between other member states using a single, standardized visa (ibid). Since its inception in 1995, the SIS has been adopted and used by 27 European countries, including three that are not formally part of the EU (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) (ibid). There are more than 31 million records stored in the SIS and that number is steadily rising (ibid).

(Figure 1: Map of the Schengen Area)

The SIS is an exemplary mechanism of the concept of ‘delocalized borders’; apparatuses of globalized surveillance and immobilization (Winland 27 Feb. 2013). Coined by sociologist David Lyon, the term is used specifically to describe the delocalisation of borders, as travellers are monitored and legally assessed “before they reach physical borders of ports of entry” (2003: 110). With time-space compression and modern information technologies, the mobilization of surveillance records are now digital, ubiquitous and thus, highly itinerant (Lyon 2003).

This new fluidity of surveillance mechanisms has both discursive and material transformative effects on border policing. Firstly, there are numerous intervention points, consisting of a multiplicity of actors and “geographic dispersal points of control” (Crawford 2007: 396). Therefore, the border no longer has a fixed location at all but functionally exists everywhere. While the formal purpose of the Schengen agreement is the abolishment of internal borders within the designated area, the SIS (which has been presented as a compensatory tool to the Schengen agreement) actually facilitates an increase in internal policing and identification of potentially undesirable persons (Crawford 2007).

Here lies an almost paradoxical consequence of delocalised borders (and globalization on a broader scale) as it both enables amplified transnational mobility yet controls it to a hitherto unprecedented degree based on the “state monopolization of legitimate means of movement” (Pratt 2005: 9). This modernist propensity to distinguish amongst the desirability of transnational movements has been accompanied by the growing criminalization of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in general (Winland 27 Feb 2013). This determination of risk is furthered by media/state-fuelled fear mongering and stigmatization regarding the “Other”, namely minorities and migrants (Appadurai 2006).

In conclusion, the informationalisation of European policing compels the acknowledgement of the central role technology occupies concerning the “reconfiguration of [spaces of governance]”, as these spaces shift from being categorically territorial to being based on the circulation of technological practices and devices (Crawford 2007: 397). Regrettably, as criminologist Anna Pratt astutely notes,

“While inclusionary and enabling governmental technologies certainly act upon those deemed worthy of citizenship who are ushered into ‘zones of inclusion’, coercive and despotic practices persist in relation to those deemed unworthy and who are confined within ‘zones of exclusion’ and ultimately expelled from the nation” (2005: 13).

A group of refugees sits wrapped in blankets before a ship

(Figure 2: Refugees wait for processing at a port in Greece)


Appadurai , Arjun. Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger. London: Duke University Press, 2006. Print.

Brouwer, Evelien. Digital Borders and Real Rights: Effective Remedies for Third-Country Nationals in the Schengen Information System (Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy in Europe). Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 2008. Print.

Crawford, Adam. International and Comparative Criminal Justice and Urban Governance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.

Lyon, David. Surveillance after September 11. Cambridge: Polity, 2003. Print.

Pratt, Anna. Securing Borders: Detention and Deportation in Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2005. eBook.


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