EU lawmakers back air passenger data deal


Airline passengers. [shankar s./Flickr]

EU lawmakers on Thursday (10 December) backed plans to track airline passenger names as part of efforts to prevent a repeat of the Paris attacks, some of whose perpetrators travelled freely across Europe before the carnage.

The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee voted 38 for and 19 against to approve the deal negotiated with the 28 member states last week, a statement said.

The measure now goes to the full parliament early next year, with approval expected in the aftermath of the attacks on bars, restaurants, the French national stadium and a concert hall which left 130 people dead.

Investigations have shown that several of the Islamic State jihadi extremists involved had travelled back and across Europe in the months beforehand as they prepared their assault.

Britain, which has long supported the need for the Passenger Name Record (PNR) system, welcomed the vote as an “important step” in combatting terrorism by ensuring that potentially crucial information was available to the authorities.

“We are united in our determination to combat terrorism through a strong yet proportionate national and international response, to tackling the threat posed by Daesh (IS) and countering violent extremism and radicalisation,” British Home Secretary Theresa May told a conference in London.

May’s office separately reported that the number of terror-related arrests in Britain in the year to September had jumped by a third to a record 315, with more than two thirds linked to international cases.

The European Union began discussions on introducing a PNR system in 2010 but misgivings about the security of personal data held up progress, with many MEPs doubly suspicious after revelations about mass US intelligence snooping.

“We cannot wait any longer to put this system in place,” said Timothy Kirkhope, the British Conservative MEP who is steering the legislation through parliament.

“The choice is not between an EU PNR system and no EU PNR system; it is between an EU PNR system and 28 national PNR systems that will have vastly differing, or absent, standards for protecting passenger data,” Kirkhope said in the statement.

France led the calls for adopting the PNR system, which will cover all international and internal EU flights while providing safeguards on access to and use of the data collected.

German MEP, Cornelia Ernst, from GUE/NGL expressed the need for more effective measures to counter terrorism:

"The despicable events in Paris should have prompted a serious discussion about how to prevent terrorism and which security measures are actually effective for this purpose. But instead we are getting more off-the-shelf policies. The proposed PNR directive has been on the table since 2012. It would not have made the world safer back then, and for sure it will not do so in 2016."

Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld (D66/ALDE) believes the proposal does not offer greater security, but does severely restrict the rights of civilians and costs European Governments millions of euros.

She said, "National security and law enforcement authorities will be able to retain passenger data in an near unlimited manner, but mandatory sharing of the analysis of this data has been rejected by Member States. We could have agreed to a well-balanced proposal of purposeful data retention, sufficient protection of civilians’ rights and mandatory sharing of intelligence. The current proposal only gives a false sense of security."

The Council approved the compromise text agreed with the European Parliament on the proposal for a directive on the use of passenger name record (PNR) data for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime.

The directive aims to regulate the transfer from the airlines to the member states of PNR data of passengers of international flights, as well as the processing of this data by the competent authorities. The directive establishes that PNR data collected may only be processed for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime. 

Under the new directive, air carriers will be obliged to provide member states' authorities with the PNR data for flights entering or departing from the EU. It will also allow, but not oblige, member states to collect PNR data concerning selected intra-EU flights. Each member state will be required to set up a so-called Passenger Information Unit, which will receive the PNR data from the air carriers. 

The UK and Ireland have opted in to this directive. Denmark is not participating.

Subscribe to our newsletters