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24th Aug 2019

Russia blames EU for airline data fiasco

  • From 1 July, Russian security services want personal data on EU passengers flying over its terriotry (Photo: andynash)

Russia and the EU are continuing to trade blame in a clash on air passenger data, as airlines count down days to deadline.

If nothing changes in the next 20 days, EU airlines will from 1 July be forced to hand over passengers' personal data, such as credit card details, to Russian security services under a new law.

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If they do not comply, Russia might ground the 53,000-or-so European flights which transit over Siberia to Asia each year.

But if they do comply, they will foul of EU data privacy rules.

The two sides are to hold expert-level meetings in the run-up to July after top-level talks at an EU-Russia summit last week went nowhere.

Meanwhile, Russia is blaming EU officials for the problem.

Kirill Ivanov, a spokesman for Russia's EU ambassador, told EUobserver on Tuesday (11 June) that the European Commission fell asleep on the dossier.

He noted that Moscow published the full text of its new PNR (Passenger Name Record) law in September last year even if it did not send a special notice to Brussels. "These measures can hardly be qualified as unexpected … the EU had sufficient time to prepare for this document entering into force," he said.

He pointed out Brussels also failed to give Moscow special notice of its recent law on unbundling energy firms or of its decision to launch an anti-trust case against Russian energy champion, Gazprom.

He said PNR exchange is becoming "worldwide practice," after the EU clinched an air data deal with the US last year.

He also indicated Russian security services respect people's privacy because Russia signed a 1981 convention on data protection at the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe.

Some MEPs on the European Parliament's civil liberties committee - which must approve PNR pacts before they go through - agree with the Russian diplomat.

Dutch Liberal Sophie in 't Veld, who sits on the committee, told this website also on Tuesday: "How come everyone has been talking about it for years? Airlines knew it was coming, parliament knew it was coming, but the commission was the last to know."

She said the commissioner in charge of the dossier, Sweden's Cecilia Malmstrom, failed to justify her "passive … bureaucratic … mysterious" approach at a committee hearing in Strasbourg on Monday.

She noted there is a long line of other countries also planning to impose PNR regimes on EU passengers, listing Canada, India, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. "It's only a matter of time before China starts collecting data as well," she said.

Despite Ivanov's reference to the 1981 convention, In 't Veld noted that Russia's track record on human rights poses concern on potential data abuse.

In a recent example, Moscow has twice applied for the French-based joint police body, Interpol, to track the movements of a British campaigner for EU sanctions on Russian officials - Bill Browder.

Interpol rejected the first request, ordered the deletion of any information on Browder from its computers and accused Moscow of misusing Interpol data in a case tainted by "political" motives.

Malmstrom spokesman Michele Cercone, for his part, defended Brussels' handling of the issue.

He told this website on Tuesday that she has asked Russia to suspend the 1 July deadline, pending more information on what kind of data it wants, how long it plans to store it and who will get access.

"We need to know more … We were never formally informed about the details," he said.

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