Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

EU funds airline data-sharing despite legal concerns

The European Commission has awarded €50 million to member states to set up airline passenger data sharing systems, despite an upcoming EU Court analysis on the probity of similar schemes.

Fourteen member states are set to launch the co-financed passenger name records (PNR) schemes by the end of the year and are expected to complete the projects within two years.

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  • The European Court of Justice is set to probe the EU's PNR agreement with Canada (Photo: Air Canada)

France, with €17.8 million, was awarded the most money, followed by the Netherlands at €5.7 million and Hungary at €5 million.

Other recipients include Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

Italy, which had launched the project much earlier and which brings the total to 15 member states, is expected to have its system up and running early next year.

National authorities are expected to send the commission mid-term reports as of January.

The commission says the "PNR" data will be transferred in “full compliance” to EU data protection laws and fundamental rights.

PNR data is personal information provided by passengers and collected by the air carriers. The data is made accessible to authorities investigating crime and terrorist threats.

But MEPs are doubtful of the overall plans.

They see the commission’s move as a pre-emptive attempt to force through legislation to set up a EU-wide PNR system.

MEPs are concerned PNR systems, without the proper checks and balances, may violate fundamental rights.

They reiterated their concerns on Tuesday.

The assembly voted to have the European Court of Justice investigate and issue an opinion on the legal basis of a PNR agreement between the EU and Canada.

The pact, recently signed between the EU and Canada, requires the parliament’s consent.

Privacy

Supporters of the PNR agreement say it will help fight terrorism and foreign fighters.

“It seems that the European Parliament wants to play politics over the issue of countering terrorism and serious crime," an EU diplomat told this website.

Member states in August at a European Council meeting backed the data-sharing agreements.

But critics are concerned about the bulk transfer of personal data to countries with weaker privacy laws.

They also doubt PNR's ability to fight terrorism, noting that member states and Canada have already been sharing such details for years but without the proper legal basis that an EU-wide agreement would entail.

"We want legal certainty for EU citizens and air carriers, not just with regard to the EU-Canada PNR agreement, but also as a benchmark for future agreements with other countries,” said Dutch liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld in a statement.

The Luxembourg-based court had already scrapped the EU’s data retention directive last April on the same issues, raised by MEPs who oppose the agreement with Canada in the first place.

The judges in their ruling on the directive said the bulk collection and storage of data of people not suspected of any crime was disproportionate.

The stakes are high because member states and the commission are pressing the assembly to also sign off on other agreements.

“If the ECJ confirms doubts on the legality of the EU-Canada agreement, this would also have clear implications for similar agreements with the USA and Australia, which would also have to be stopped,” said German Green MEP Jan Phillip Albrecht.

Data retention issue stymies EU air passenger bill

Attempts to finalise the EU-wide passenger name records bill by the end of year seems unlikely, given top MEPs' divided views on its conformity with a recent Luxembourg verdict.

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