Sunday

19th Nov 2017

Data retention issue stymies EU air passenger bill

  • Member states want an EU PNR bill finalised before the end of the year (Photo: Curt Smith)

Attempts to finalise the EU-wide passenger name records bill before the end of year seem increasingly unlikely given the wide political differences between a handful of leading MEPs and member states.

The European Commission’s proposal is to create a legal basis for airlines to exchange personal details of passengers with member states’ authorities in efforts to track criminals, terrorists, and so-called foreign fighters.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But a handful of leading MEPs in the civil liberties committee on Tuesday (11 November) remained unconvinced that the proposal, as it stands, fully complies with a recent European Court of Justice ruling on data retention.

The EU had to scrap its controversial data retention law after the Luxembourg judges declared its mass-scale and indiscriminate collection of data as a serious violation of fundamental rights.

The judgement has created additional complications for the commission proposal, which foresees data to be retained for up to five years.

“I don’t see, after this judgment, that we can just go back to business as usual,” said German Green Jan Phillip Albrecht.

“It [EU PNR] is foreseeing the blanket retention of all travelers entering the European Union or going outside”.

The commission, for its part, is revisiting the bill in light of the judgment.

“It’s clear that the proposal at hand needs to be carefully examined in the light of the principals and criteria set out in the Court of Justice ruling on the data retention directive,” a commission representative told the MEPs.

Some of the deputies pointed out that the Brussels executive is already financing national PNR systems in 15 member states.

British conservative Timothy Kirkhope, the parliament’s lead negotiator on the bill and one of its primary backers, noted that Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK, all received EU money to set up their own PNR systems.

“The current system is burdensome for airlines,” he said, adding that a legal basis is needed to make the data exchanges coherent.

He said criminals and terrorists are able to “exploit the gaps in the current exchange system between law enforcement authorities.”

Kirkhope added that the bill should be passed as soon as possible and that data issues would be dealt with once the EU has signed off on the broader data protection reforms, currently stuck at member-state level.

Not everyone is convinced by the arguments.

Dutch liberal Sophie In’t Veld said the EU funding for the 15 member states is an underhanded way of forcing an EU law into existence.

“Giving money to the member states to create national systems, so that all of a sudden there is a need for harmonisation, ‘hey look we have a reason for a directive’, it’s called bribing and I find this a despicable way of making policies and law,” she noted.

UK threatens to ban EU airlines

An EU source says the UK is doing something similar by threatening to ban EU airlines from landing in its territory if member states refuse to hand over personal details of passengers.

Last week, one of Britain’s most senior home office officials, Mark Sedwill, said EU airlines must give the UK information on passenger lists or face a landing ban.

Sedwill said German airlines are at greatest risk.

“We are in discussions, which for obvious reasons I have to keep somewhat private, with other EU countries to change their data protection legislation in order to require this data of the carrier,” he said, according to British daily The Guardian.

The UK reportedly wants the type of data - like credit card numbers and home addresses - which would normally be included in a fully-fledged PNR agreement.

But the EU commission told this website that the UK cannot force airlines to give such information.

"Airlines are currently not obliged under EU law to transfer passenger name record data to member states," a commission official said in an email.

Instead, a so-called Advanced Passenger Information (API) instrument - an EU law since 2004 - only requires member states to hand over limited data.

API data are the biographical information taken from the machine-readable part of a passport and contain the name, place of birth, and nationality of the person, their passport number and its expiry date.

The data are given to border-control authorities, at the request of each member state, for flights entering the territory of the EU. The information is typically used to deal with border control and irregular migration issues.

MEPs point finger at Malta

The European Parliament debated shady deals and rule of law in Malta after the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, while the Commission wanted to avoid a "political fight".

Austrian privacy case against Facebook hits legal snag

Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems may sue Facebook Ireland in an Austrian court but won't be able to pursue a class action suit in Austria, according to a non-binding opinion by a top EU court advisor.

EU Parliament 'cookie' restrictions worry online media

The European Parliament and groups representing newspapers and magazines are at odds over how new privacy rules will affect the media, especially restrictions on website cookies - but one MEP thinks it could spark new business models.

MEPs ponder how to fight tax havens

After the Paradise Papers brought new revelations about tax dodging across the globe, including in the EU, the European Parliament wonders how to step up the fight.

MEPs point finger at Malta

The European Parliament debated shady deals and rule of law in Malta after the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, while the Commission wanted to avoid a "political fight".

News in Brief

  1. Bonn climate talks extend into Friday evening
  2. UK needs to move on Brexit by early December, Tusk says
  3. Puigdemont extradition decision postponed to December
  4. Ireland wants written UK guarantees to avoid hard border
  5. US did not obstruct climate talks, says German minister
  6. EU signs social declaration
  7. Puigdemont to be heard by Belgian judges
  8. Steep fall in migrants reaching EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  2. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  4. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  5. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  6. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  9. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  10. World Vision20 November: Exchange of Views at the EP on Children Affected by the Syria Crisis
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  12. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy

Latest News

  1. EU keeps former Soviet states at arm's length
  2. EU leaders make pledge on social issues after populist backlash
  3. EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK
  4. Germany slams Dutch call for more ambitious EU climate goal
  5. Mind the gap: inequality in our cities
  6. Climate activists 'disappointed' with EU at climate talks
  7. Davis outlines UK vision on Brexit in Berlin
  8. German coalition talks in near collapse

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  2. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersMale Business Leaders Gather in Copenhagen to Advance Gender Equality
  4. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened
  5. EU2017EEEstonia Anticipates More Digital Cooperation With Sweden
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina Launches Campaign to Protect IPR of Foreign Companies
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Condemns Attacks on Ruta Vanagaite and the Shredding of Her Books in Lithuania
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesDiscover the Future of the Bio-Based Economy. Register Now for the BBI Stakeholder Forum!
  9. European Free AllianceWelcome Catalonia!
  10. UNICEFGrowing Number of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in Greece in Need of Shelter
  11. Counter BalanceNature Destruction Cannot Be Compensated For, Say NGOs
  12. CES - Silicones EuropeSilicones - Enabling the Next Big Leap in Prosthetics and Health