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12th Aug 2022

EU keen to revive passenger data bill after Brussels terrorist attack

  • The European Commission says a data exchange agreement with police could help prevent terrorist attacks (Photo: angeloangelo)

A bill designed to allow police access to EU airline passenger details would help prevent future attacks by suspected terrorists inside Europe, says the European Commission.

EU home affairs spokesperson Michele Cercone on Monday (2 June) told reporters in Brussels the 2011 EU passenger records name (PNR) proposal – which has been stalled due to opposition from the European Parliament – “could facilitate the endeavours of the member states” to fight what he said was a growing internal security threat.

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The proposal would oblige airlines flying to and from the EU to hand over the personal details of the passengers onboard.

The renewed interest in the bill follows the arrest of a 29-year old Frenchman linked to last month’s fatal shootings at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.

The suspect is said to have spent time last year in Syria fighting alongside radical Islamist rebels, sparking fears other Syria-bound European nationals may pose a threat when they return home.

EU ministers are set to discuss the issue of EU citizens fighting in Syria in the margins of a justice and home affairs meeting in Luxembourg later this week.

To help dispel the threats, the commission wants to turn its proposed PNR directive into law but is facing opposition from MEPs.

The commission says the directive is needed to protect European citizens against security threats, such as terrorism or serious crime.

MEPs sitting on the parliament’s civil liberties committee disagree.

Last year they rejected the bill on privacy grounds, although the EU had already agreed to similar deals with the US, Canada, and Australia.

But the EU has other options.

Among them, noted Cercone, is the reinforced Schengen information system.

The system alerts border guards, police, customs officials, visa and judicial authorities throughout the border-free Schengen area of anyone not supposed to be in the EU or suspected of having committed a crime.

“It is clear that all efforts at the present stage have to converge towards the exchange of information among member states and it is there that attention will be focused,” he said.

However, the Schengen information system has been criticised in several quarters for being too costly. The European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx has described another so-called entry/exit system (EES) as “unproven and intrusive”.

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