Sunday

25th Aug 2019

Investigation

EU may extend 'passenger name records' to rail and sea

  • Travellers arriving in Paris by high-speed train. EU states are mulling whether railway companies offering international travel should also be subject to requirements to share passenger data with authorities (Photo: Erwyn van der Meer)

The national governments of the EU member states are considering extending mandatory record-keeping of air passenger data to high-speed rail travel and sea traffic.

A majority of states have said in diplomatic discussions that they were in favour of applying the rules from the EU's passenger name record (PNR) directive, currently only applicable to air travel, to other modes of transportation.

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  • A confidential survey among EU states said 83 percent were in favour of broadening the application of the PNR directive to maritime traffic (Photo: Lars Plougmann)

The PNR directive, adopted in 2016 to fight terrorism, requires air carriers to transfer personal data about their customers to the authorities.

In February, Romania (then holding the rotating six-month presidency of the Council of the EU) sent member states a confidential document with the results of a questionnaire about the future of the PNR directive.

The paper, published on the Statewatch website, said that "the majority of the member states agreed on broadening the scope of the PNR directive".

"The percentages were the following: 83 percent wants to broaden it to maritime, 76 percent to railway, and 67 percent to road traffic," said the document.

"The negative replies highlighted arguments related to the increase of data to be processed by the PIU [passenger information unit, i.e. the relevant national authority], something which was unlikely to be manageable, and could even be seen as an intrusion into privacy."

"Overall, member states were in favour of broadening the scope of data collection to other types of transportation, but that it was important to first implement of the PNR directive as it is, ensure that PIUs can manage the PNR data and are fully operational," the February document noted.

On Monday (5 August), Statewatch published another confidential council document, this time drafted by Finland, Romania's successor as council president.

It said that travel was increasing both within the EU's passport-free zone Schengen, and from outside Schengen.

EU 'broad support'

"Increasing cross-border travelling entails cross-border crime such as migrant smuggling and irregular migration arrangements, which involves third-country nationals that are smuggled into the EU territories, or narcotic drugs smugglers, terrorists and other criminals. This poses a growing challenge to national law enforcement authorities in combating crime," the Finns wrote in the document dated 25 June 2019.

"The presidency suggests continuing the discussion about widening the scope of the PNR directive to other forms of transportation than air traffic," they added.

"These other forms of transportation could be, for example, sea traffic and international high speed trains. The presidency aims to explore, whether the member states expect an added value in broadening the scope of the PNR directive and including other forms of transportation in the future."

The existence of the papers can be confirmed in the register of council documents, while the information in the leaked documents is verified by a third paper, one which was made public by the council.

This paper gave a summary of discussions at diplomatic level held on 3 July, in the so-called Working Party on Information Exchange and Data Protection.

It said Finland had presented the discussion paper "on extending the use of PNR data for law enforcement purposes to maritime traffic and high speed trains".

"The presidency initiative met with broad support," said the published paper.

"The benefit of broadening the scope of applicable PNR data allowing for completing a picture on suspicious travel patterns was underlined by the majority of delegations."

The publicly-available summary paper said that "a series of concerns" were mentioned in the discussion, but did not explicitly mention one of the main concerns some member states had, according to the confidential February paper: privacy intrusion.

Instead, the paper said member states had a "series of concerns linked to their geographical situation or national legislation [and] to technical or operational obstacles to collect such data".

It said that the member state delegations "asked for more time to thoroughly examine the initiative".

The PNR directive was hailed as crucial to prevent terrorism.

"The EU PNR directive will help us better identify those who pose a threat and trace their travel patterns," said EU security commissioner Julian King in May 2018, when the directive came into force.

But many member states have been late in implementing its provisions, the deadline for which was 25 May 2018.

As late as February 2019, only 20 of 27 EU member states (Denmark has an opt-out) had fully transposed the directive.

'Terrorism' drops down poll

Meanwhile, concern about terrorism among EU citizens has dropped, according to the regular Eurobarometer survey.

In the latest edition, published Monday, terrorism was no longer among the two issues respondents were most concerned about.

Immigration is still concern number one, mentioned by 34 percent (down from its peak of 58 percent in 2015).

Terrorism was mentioned by 44 percent of respondents in early 2017, but by only 18 percent in the latest survey.

More people (22 percent) are now concerned about climate change than about terrorism.

MEPs set to back air-passenger data sharing

EU lawmakers are likely to pass the Passenger Name Records bill into law on Thursday despite outstanding questions on its costs, effectiveness and impact on civil liberties.

Focus

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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