MEPs vote down air passenger data scheme
By Honor Mahony
Euro-deputies in the civil liberties committee on Wednesday (24 April) rejected a proposal obliging airline companies to pass personal details of EU passengers to member state authorities.
The bill, presented in 2011 by the European Commission as a key anti-terrorism measure, was thrown out by 30 votes to 25. It concerned the data of passengers flying into and out of the EU.
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The vote was split along party political lines, with Greens, Socialists and Liberals mostly against and the conservatives in favour.
Dutch liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld, an expert on data privacy issues, said the parliament had not fought so hard to shape similar rules concerning EU passengers flying to the US "only to give in now on the grounds that this proposal applies within the EU."
Critics do not like the proposal because it does not prevent the use of passenger name records (PNR) for profiling with the possibility for the data to be stored on police databases for five years.
Timothy Kirkhope, the British conservative MEP heading up the dossier, said the vote "did not show parliament in a good light."
"This agreement would have enabled us to track terrorists, people traffickers and other serious criminals and it would put in place strong protections for passenger data," he said.
He accused those of voting against the proposal of doing so more for "grandstanding" reasons than out of principle, pointing out that the EU already has such an agreement with the US.
Sixteen of the 27 EU governments already collect air passenger data but the rules vary among the states.
For its part, the European Commission reacted by saying it was "extremely important" that the proposal was adopted as soon as possible and noting that it was "just" a committee vote.
There is now a tussle about whether the issue should come before plenary - a question that is to be decided by the heads of the political groups in the parliament.
Kirkhope believes a plenary vote - the parliament is dominated by the centre-right - would be in favour of the rules, meaning the issue would once again go before the civil rights committee for deliberation. The commission could also come up with a revised proposal.
But in any case the committee vote means the matter has been delayed by a few weeks at least.
"The vote taken this morning was an orientation vote. That is a necessary vote to allow the remaining parts of the proposals to be voted on or dealt with. The other proposals contained a considerable number of compromises which were never determined because this vote was taken on a preemptory basis," said Kirkhope
"Because the vote was to reject as a proposal as a whole, that will now have to go before the parliament to get it confirmed or otherwise. But it has set us back in time. It is a process that will take quite a little while " he added.