The European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties has given the green light to a controversial data transfer deal with the United States, the so-called passenger name register (PNR) agreement.

The deal was approved by a vote of 31-23 with one abstention. Some MEPs who voted against stressed that data protection safeguards foreseen in the agreement do not meet EU standards.

The EPP and ECR groups voted in favour. In a debate on 23 March, a number of MEPs said it was better to have an agreement, even if not entirely satisfactory, than to have no agreement at all. The ALDE, Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL groups voted against, saying they consider that data protection safeguards foreseen in the agreement do not meet EU standards. S&D MEPs were split.

“The result of the vote shows clearly that there are very strong reservations against this agreement,” said Sophie in ’t Veld, the Dutch MEP in charge of the dossier. However, the MEP pointed out that a “no” vote would have triggered the suspension of visa-free travel for Europeans to the United States.

The Dutch MEP stressed it was highly regrettable that the fundamental rights of EU citizens had been bargained away under pressure.

Under the new agreement, PNR data would be accessed and  retained for up to five years. But the information would still be held for a further 15 years before being fully "anonymised."

This is in line with what member states agreed in December, despite reluctance from Germany. 

Parliament is scheduled to vote on the deal at its  19 April plenary session. If legislators reject the 2011 PNR agreement, the 2007 provisional deal would continue to apply until it expires in July 2014. In May 2010, Parliament postponed its vote on the 2007 agreement and called on the Commission to negotiate a new text. So if the 2011 deal is rejected, Parliament might also have to vote to extend the 2007 agreement.

In Ocotber, the European Parliament gave its consent to the conclusion of a passenger name record deal with Australia, tightening the safeguards, and data will be retained by the Australian authorities for a maximum of five-and-a-half years.