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17th Jan 2021

EU flight data bill set for possible overhaul

  • In limbo: PNR was blocked by MEPs (Photo: *tamara*)

The European Commission is willing to rework a stalled EU airline data sharing bill that has infuriated MEPs and frustrated member states for the past three years.

“We will review our proposal to see if we can accommodate issues that have a role in both parliament and council,” EC vice-president Frans Timmermans told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (21 January).

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First proposed in 2011, the EU passenger name record (EU PNR) directive ran into a blockade of opposition from euro-deputies in the parliament’s civil liberties committee where it has been stuck ever since.

The bill requires airlines in the EU to hand over the personal details of their customers to the police where it can be kept for up to five years.

The socialist, Liberal, and Green political groups are demanding better rights safeguards amid concerns the proposal allows targeting of people not convicted of any crime.

Others are worried that the EU PNR may end up in a legislative scrap pile after the European Court of Justice annulled the EU data retention directive last year on issues similar to those raised by the MEPs.

The court invalidated the data retention directive because it violated privacy rights and was disproportionate.

One of the bill’s biggest critics, German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, said any new PNR proposal must take into account the Luxembourg-court data retention ruling.

“Home affairs ministers have to understand they cannot simply shove the old PNR proposal down the Parliament's throat,” he said in a statement.

The commission and member states want the bill passed with EU leaders last August urging the assembly to have it signed by the end of the 2014.

But MEPs have resisted despite intense pressure following the Brussels Jewish museum shooting last year and the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris earlier this month.

Advocates argue PNR is needed to better identify and track EU nationals returning home after fighting alongside Islamic militants in Iraq or Syria.

The directive would create a EU-wide legal basis for the data sharing for all 28 member states.

Around 15 countries are already putting in place their own national PNR systems, co-financed by the commission, annoying some MEPs who say it is pre-empting the legislative process.

Italy’s interior minister Angelino Alfano, in a letter addressed to EU council president Tusk in December, said several member states are considering interconnecting existing and future systems regardless of any EU law.

Timmermans, for his part, is now in listening mode and is sending EU commissioner for home affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos to the parliament “to take into account what changes they would like.”

Avramopoulos is set to meet the civil liberties committee on 27 January, two days before an informal justice and home affairs ministerial in Riga.

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