Monday

19th Aug 2019

Opinion

EU plans for big brother data analysis must be nipped in the bud

  • EU home affairs ministers are this week set to consider the new proposals for an EU Passenger Name Record system (Photo: EUobserver)

The ever-creeping drive for more pervasive retention and analysis of private data and big brother-style surveillance looks set to continue in the European Union.

Last week, the European Parliament voted to give the green light to a controversial EU-US agreement on air passenger data. The passenger name record or PNR agreement legitimises the practice of the US Department of Homeland Security in storing and analysing potentially sensitive private information of individuals travelling by air from Europe.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The EU-US PNR agreement controversy lasted almost 10 years, with the European Court of Justice and other national courts in Europe having ruled that a previous agreement is in conflict with EU law. The European Parliament echoed these concerns on numerous occasions before finally caving to pressure from EU governments last week.

The terms of the new agreement remain disproportionate, notably the lengthy retention periods for passenger data, the potential of using the data for the profiling of individuals (including sensitive data, for example regarding a religious meal choice or requests for assistance due to a medical condition) and the lack of legal redress. These concerns will now simply be brushed under the carpet by members of the European Parliament who wanted to wash their hands of the controversy.

The intrusive passenger name record saga will not end there however.

Agreements with other third countries are in the pipeline and, worse still, the European Commission has proposed introducing a similar system within the European Union. This week, EU home affairs ministers are set to consider the new proposals for an EU PNR system, as well as rubberstamping the EU-US agreement.

The stated intention of the European Commission is to use the system to identify terrorists and organised criminals, but there is scant evidence that these far-reaching data retention measures do anything to achieve their stated aim of ensuring greater security. What is clear is that they compromise EU citizens' privacy and civil liberties.

The Commission wants to introduce a system along the lines of that in the US, where the US Department of Homeland Protection maintains a register of the data of up to 30 million air passengers. This includes extensive booking-related information from travel agencies and airlines, such as credit card details, mobile phone number, the IP address of the booking process, and hotel or rental car reservations.

There is evidence to suggest that passengers with unusual names or noteworthy dietary requests may already be regarded as suspicious, with those affected having no influence on potentially erroneous evaluations, as they have no right to access the data collected, let alone to correct or delete it.

European home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström has sought to play down concerns about the intrusive nature of the proposed EU system. However, the very purpose of such as system is data storage and analysis (or even profiling) in which diverse information is compiled to create profiles of terrorist suspects.

Members of the European Parliament have already expressed their concern about the proposed EU PNR system. The jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice and other national courts with regard to the EU-US PNR agreement suggests that they would also find the Commission's proposals incompatible with EU law.

So, while EU home affairs ministers may push ahead with their legislative deliberations on the proposed EU PNR system, opposition is brewing. With plans already afoot in some EU countries to apply similar data analysis systems to other forms of transport, it can only be hoped that the European Parliament will live up to its role of defending the rights of European citizens and nip these proposals in the bud.

The writer is a German Member of the European Parliament and home affairs expert for the Greens/EFA political group.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Lagarde's ECB must modernise

Christine Lagarde will succeed European Central Bank president Mario Draghi at a time of deepening polarisation among eurozone member states. It will take all of her skills as a leader and communicator to safeguard the institution's independence.

UK MPs' maths means election, not no-deal Brexit

Parliamentary arithmetic at Westminster, and societal pressures from the likes of Welsh sheep-farmers, Northern Irish cattle breeders, London business groups and Scottish Conservatives combine to push a motion of no-confidence in the prime minister by mid-October at the very latest.

Why von der Leyen must put rights at core of business

Ursula von der Leyen's in-tray must include those European executives on trial for systematic workplace harassment, the break-up of European slavery rings, and allegations of European companies' abuse in palm oil, including child labour, land grabs, and deforestation.

Gulf tension making it harder for EU to save Iran deal

Europeans should also clarify that they are unwilling to tolerate restrictions on freedom of navigation or a further significant expansion of Iran's nuclear programme. Diplomacy can resolve the standoff over the captured British and Iranian tankers.

Facebook has to answer some tough questions about Libra

German MEP and member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, Markus Ferber, warns of four separate threats from Facebook's Libra. A good moment to kick off the debate would be this week's G20 summit.

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. EU ends silence on Hong Kong protests
  2. Is Salvini closing just harbours or also the rule of law?
  3. No-deal Brexit would seriously harm UK, leaked paper says
  4. Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings
  5. EU asked to solve migrant rescue deadlock
  6. Internal EU paper: Second Brexit vote was no longer 'distant dream'
  7. EU has 'zero incentive' to break open 'trilogue' deals
  8. Denmark plans import ban on EU-approved pesticide

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us