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23rd Mar 2019

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EU data chief says passenger information bill is unjustified

The EU’s top data protection guardian on Friday (25 September) spoke out against a bill that would hoover up the private data of anyone taking a commercial flight in and out of Europe.

“No elements reasonably substantiate the need for the default collection of massive amounts of the personal information of millions of travellers”, said Giovanni Buttarelli, the European data protection supervisor.

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The bill – known as the EU Passenger Name Record (EU PNR) - is designed to combat terrorism and crime but has drawn sharp criticism from civil rights defenders.

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

The personal details of hundreds of millions of people will be stored for up to 5 years in a searchable database. Names will be anonymised after 30 days but can be released if requested. After 5 years, the data is deleted.

But Buttarelli says there is no justification for “massive, non-targeted and indiscriminate collection of passengers' personal information”.

He said authorities have yet to explain why it is necessary and why it is urgently needed. Instead, he recommended that legislators come up with another plan to target known suspects.

“[It] would be more effective than profiling all travellers”, he said.

Critics are also up in arms because the EU PNR turns everyone into a suspect for a crime they haven’t committed.

They also note that the European Court of Justice already rejected a similar EU law last year because of its general and indiscriminate collection of people’s data.

The EU PNR was proposed in 2011 but ran into problems with the European parliament’s civil liberties committee. It was then pushed through following the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris earlier this year.

British conservative Timothy Kirkhope, who steered the bill through parliament, says it has built-in safeguards to protect people’s privacy.

“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 told this website in July.

Talks with the Council, representing member states, have since begun with negotiators hoping to reach an agreement before the end of the year.

EU ministers back air passenger data sweep

After years of talks, EU interior ministers backed a proposal to set up an EU PNR system but it still needs the backing of the European Parliament.

Agenda

Panama and PNR on EU agenda This Week

Panama Papers revelations, that could topple the Maltese government, will be debated in the EP next week. Controversial legislation to share passenger name records will also be voted on.

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