21st Sep 2021

MEPs back blanket collection of airline passenger data

People flying into and out of the EU are now a step closer to having their personal data collected and retained for years to help police find criminals and terrorists.

The European Parliament's civil liberties committee Wednesday (15 July) backed a 2011 proposal to set up an EU-wide passenger name records directive.

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  • Further talks between MEPs and governments on the EU passenger name records bill will start after the summer break (Photo: shugfy)

The bill had been stuck in the committee since 2013 but Wednesday’s endorsement means talks can now start with member states, probably in autumn.

“I want to have it wrapped up before Christmas. I want to be able to have a relaxing Christmas and I am now hoping to have a slightly more relaxing summer,” British conservative Timothy Kirkhope, who is steering the bill through the parliament, told EUobserver.

The bill would grant security officials and police, including the EU’s police agency Europol, access to 19 pieces of information like travel dates, ticket information, contact details, travel agency details, means of payment, seat numbers, and luggage details.

The most sensitive data would be deleted after 30 days. Other data would be masked but left accessible for up to five years for terrorism suspects and four years for cases involving transnational crimes.

Last year’s shooting at the Jewish museum in Brussels, the killings at Charlie Hebdo earlier this year in Paris, and the shooting in Copenhagen raised pressure on the MEPs to back the bill.

French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve lobbied individual euro-deputies to sign it off following the Paris murders, saying it would help deter terrorism.

Similar declarations had been made in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005 when the EU adopted the EU data retention directive.

That law was scrapped almost a decade later after the European Court of Justice ruled that blanket retention of data was a serious violation of fundamental rights.

“The proposals adopted today clearly violate fundamental rights and will therefore once again be submitted to the judges in Luxembourg,” said German Green Jan Phillip Albrecht.

He said the vote means that all air passengers in the EU will be placed under general suspicion and their personal details scrutinised.

“If these proposal do not infringe constitutional or treaty provisions, then civil rights in the EU is meaningless”, he said.

Another outspoken critic, Dutch Liberal Sophie In’t Veld, said the current text does not offer greater security or greater protection of fundamental rights.

“This vote leaves it - once again - to the courts to ensure the protection of fundamental rights and the rule of law," she said.

Kirkhope, for his part, says the proposals have inbuilt safeguards.

“We built in proportionality and necessity into the whole thing here and indeed our proposal stands on its own. It doesn’t need to have anything else in place,” he said.

However he admitted the protection of personal data cannot be 100 percent guaranteed despite additional measures like requiring all processing of PNR data be logged or documented.

“We live in a very dangerous world, we live in a world where there have to be certain compromises, where we do need to able to provide information to our security and police services around Europe", he said.

Kirkhope had wanted to include internal flights in the proposal but dropped it following heated debates with some fellow MEPs.

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