Sunday

25th Jul 2021

EU states losing interest in anti-terror law

  • Suspicious behavoir could land you in big trouble (Photo: Steven Thompson)

Almost half of member states appear to have shown little interest in implementing an EU law billed as key in fighting terrorism.

Adopted in April 2016, the EU's passenger name record directive was pressed through the EU legislative pipeline amid noisy promises to shore up Europe's security in the wake of terror attacks in France and Belgium.

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It came with big caveats, received millions of EU taxpayer's money, and was heavily lobbied for by Paris.

Defenders say it helps security services identify suspicious behavioural patterns in their efforts to crack down on potential terrorists and other criminals by sweeping up and sharing data on air passengers.

Critics say it undermines fundamental rights and does little to help police track down suspects.

The EU's data protection chief described it as "unjustified and massive collection of passenger data".

Timothy Kirkhope, the conservative British MEP leading the file at the time, promised immediate results.

"EU governments have it made clear that they really do wish to begin operating the system almost immediately," he said in early 2016.

But on Thursday (6 September), EU security commissioner Julian King painted an altogether different reality.

He told MEPs in the civil liberties committee that the European Commission has now threatened to take some EU states to court for dragging their feet.

"The deadline for transposing the directive passed in May and we took action in July to issue infringement proceedings against those member states who have not fully implemented the directive," he said.

EU states dragging recieved millions in EU funds

Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain were all sent so-called letters of formal notice in mid-July.

Some may have since sorted outstanding issues, like France, given that King on Thursday said 17 EU states have now fully transposed the directive, while another two have notified partial transposition.

Last year, the EU commission doled out €70m to help them get it launched.

This comes on top of the €50m it handed out since 2013 in the lead up to the directive, long before it was signed into law.

Out of the initial €50m, France received the biggest slice from the commission purse and was awarded €17.8m.

The Netherlands got €5.7m, Hungary €5m, Estonia close to €5m, Spain just under €4m, Bulgaria some €2.4m and Finland €2.2m. Portugal received €976,000 and Romania €134,137.

"Since that system has been introduced [in France], there are just 13 people intercepted on the basis of the PNR system, 13 people and that is according to ministry information," said French liberal MEP Gerard Deprez.

French government lobbying

France had also at the time dispatched its interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve to lobby individual MEPs for the bill's swift adoption.

The law had been stuck in the European Parliament for years given the unresolved rights issues and concerns over the indiscriminate collection of personal data.

Cazeneuve accused the European Parliament of being "irresponsible for delaying the vote."

His boss at the time, French prime minister Manuel Valls, made similar comments.

The French cheer leading followed a visit by 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 10 year as Evry mayor, up until 2012, before becoming the country's interior minister.

In July, France received a letter of formal notice from the commission.

Paris had transposed PNR into national law and issued a decree in early August in its official journal, but failed to notify the commission in time.

EU data chief says passenger information bill is unjustified

European data protection supervisor, Giovanni Buttarelli, says there is not enough information to justify the necessity of the EU Passenger Name Record scheme, which stores and can divulge the personal details of passengers flying in and out of Europe.

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