25th Oct 2016

Governments eschew urgency of passenger flight data law

  • Intense French-led lobbying helped push the EU PNR through the European Parliament (Photo: angeloangelo)

National governments are yet to launch a much touted EU law to data sweep airline passengers flying into and out of Europe, a European Commission official said on Friday (7 October).

The so-called EU passenger name records (EU PNR) directive was passed earlier this year amid a keen sense of urgency from leaders in the fight against crime and terrorism.

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But despite the European Commission having doled out tens of millions to finance 15 national PNR schemes, years before the directive's launch, not a single member state has implemented the EU-level plan, as of date. The national PNR schemes were launched as projects to help lay the groundwork for an EU-wide level proposal.

An EU official told this website that EU states are likely at different stages of putting it in place, but that none have implemented it in full. Asked to comment, a commission spokesman told reporters in Brussels that member states have until May 2018 to transpose the directive into their national laws.

The message contrasts with comments by Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner for migration, who told MEPs in April that there was no time to lose.

"The commission will be putting pressure on member states to implement it as soon as possible: we cannot wait for two years," he had said.

The file had been blocked at the EU parliament's civil liberties committee for years over outstanding issues on fundamental rights to privacy and data protection.

But in April, the assembly caved into intense pressure following the recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, with senior figures like French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve lobbying individual MEPs.

The file won by 461 to 179 votes in the EU parliament.

Valls and Safran

The French boosting followed a March visit from prime minister Manuel Valls to Safran, a company that deals with PNR data. Safran is based in Evry, a town near Paris, which has since landed major contracts to launch PNR schemes in Estonia and France.

Valls also spent ten year as Evry mayor, up until 2012, before becoming the country's interior minister.

National schemes

The money has gone to help Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden to set up national PNR systems. But as of July, only Austria has managed to get one up and running.

The EU commission told Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in't Veld, also in July, that it had no overview of the procurement procedures and actual costs of the projects. It also has no insights into the companies that have benefited despite handing over a €50 million check.

The EU directive lays out standards to allow them to exchange the data between themselves and states outside the EU.

Court of Justice

The EU PNR directive promises to help authorities track down possible terrorists but critics say there is no evidence it will work. The fear of returning foreign fighters helped, in part, to trigger a dash to get the file adopted despite wider reservations from civil liberty defenders.

In a further blow, a European Court of Justice judge in September issued an opinion saying the EU would not be able to implement a similar data exchange agreement with Canada.

The €500 million scheme will mask people's data after six months, which is stored for up to five years.

EU states may also choose to collect data on all intra-EU flights under the scope of the directive.

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