The scheme, due to be presented on 6 November 2007 as part of a broader package of counter-terrorism measures, would mirror a US Passenger Name Record system (PNR), in force since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which demands that details of all passengers flying to America be passed on to the Department of Homeland Security before take-off (EurActiv 29/06/07).
As with the US PNR, airlines traveling to or from the EU would be required to transmit 19 pieces of personal data on each of their passengers – including names, travel dates, full itinerary, billing data and baggage information – to analysis units in charge of assessing travellers' terrorist risk, to the first EU state where the plane is to land.
The data would be kept for five years and then for a further eight years in a "dormant" database, according to a draft of the plan seen by EurActiv.
The scheme would not apply to intra-European flights and, for reasons of privacy, the proposal excludes the sharing of "sensitive" PNR data, such as racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, and data concerning the health or sex life of the individual. Any such information that is passed on would have to be deleted immediately, it states.
Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini has made clear he believes that the level of terrorist treat to Europe fully justifies the creation of a European PNR (EurActiv 4/07/07). "The Union is at least as much a potential target of a terrorist attack as the United States, and the use and analysis of passenger name records is an important law enforcement tool to protect our citizens," he told members of Parliament last month.
However, data-protection practitioners, legal experts and human-rights groups are against the move.
Tony Bunyan, editor of Statewatch, a group devoted to monitoring civil liberties in Europe, commented: "This is yet another measure that places everyone under surveillance and makes everyone a 'suspect' without any meaningful right to know how the data is used, how it is further processed and by whom."
He added: "There is little evidence that the gathering of 'mountain upon mountain' of data on the activities of every person in the EU makes a significant contribution [to tackling terrorism]."
Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld last week called on the Commission to think before it acts and undertake a thorough evaluation of the effectiveness of existing passenger data schemes in the US and Canada before setting up a similar system in Europe. "EU counter-terrorism policies must be regularly assessed on their effectiveness…their impact on reducing the threat and increasing security, on improving cooperation and exchange between countries and agencies, as well as an evaluation of the cumulative impact of individual measures on privacy and civil liberties," she stressed.