6th Dec 2022

MEPs criticise Brussels' plan to collect data on air passengers

European lawmakers have said they are "concerned" about a European Commission proposal that EU member states collect 19 pieces of air passenger data, a move that mirrors the controversial US database on European air travellers.

On Wednesday (12 December), the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the fight against terrorism, stating it is "unacceptable" to introduce an EU-wide air passengers name recording scheme (PNR) without a thorough scrutiny of the existing PNR agreement between the EU and Washington, especially of its benefits for security and its impact on privacy and civil liberties.

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Some 359 MEPs voted in favour of the resolution drafted by French liberal Jean-Marie Cavada, while 293 parliamentarians were against and 38 abstained.

"There is very little material available on the effectiveness of this measure", Dutch liberal Sophia in't Veld told EUobserver, adding that an impact study tabled by the commission is rather "a political pamphlet".

The idea to collect and analyse air passenger data by member states' law enforcement authorities is a part of a new EU counter-terrorism strategy put forward by EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini in November.

Under the proposal, security bodies would gain access to 19 pieces of passenger information - including name, address, passport data, telephone numbers, travel agent, credit card number, history of changes in the flight schedule and seat preference.

Sensitive information such as racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership as well as health and sexual orientation should not be revealed, according to the commission.

The data - which EU capitals could store for up to thirteen years - should serve as a basis for decisions such as secondary screening upon a passenger's arrival or a refusal of entry in the destination country.

According to the EU parliament, a frequent guardian of civil liberties and data protection, the "potential misuse of the personal information" is a major risk.

"Any form of profiling in counter-terrorism measures is unacceptable", the resolution says, referring to the fact that the new data-mining technique is designed to use personal characteristics to determine whether someone is likely to commit a particular type of crime.

MEPs say that "the necessity and proportionality" of the proposed profiling scheme is questionable.

In general, the MEPs criticise the fact that anti-terror measures are not being sufficiently scrutinised by European and national parliaments.

In response, the parliamentarians call on the EU's executive arm to carry out a thorough evaluation of counter-terrorism tools every two years - something that should verify their real effectiveness, their impact on fundamental rights as well as the real costs.

The resolution is a victory for socialist and liberal MEPs in the face of opposition from their centre-right colleagues, who tried to soften the critical tone of the paper.

Centre-right deputies claimed that swiftly-adopted action against terrorism is justified in specific circumstances.

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