Wednesday

30th Nov 2022

MEPs look to new data protection battle with US

  • The US has access to all customer data for Europeans boarding transatlantic flights (Photo: Flickr/Mr. Wright)

After having forced extra privacy provisions into an EU-US deal on bank data snoops, the European Parliament is bracing itself for an even tougher battle on US access to personal information on air passengers.

The EU parliament came to prominence in February when it used its new Lisbon Treaty powers to veto international agreements involving transfers of data by striking down the so-called Swift deal.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The Swift pact - which allows US agents to sift EU bank data for evidence of terrorist financing - is now expected to pass a second vote on Thursday (8 July) with no problems after the EU commission inserted extra privacy provisions.

But an upcoming vote on the "Passenger Name Record" (PNR) scheme, which obliges every airline flying into or via the US to hand in all personal data on its passengers, is likely to prove tricky.

"The vote on the PNR will be more difficult, because our objections are stronger," Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in't Veld, the parliament's rapporteur on PNR, told Euobserver after returning from an "exploratory" visit to the US last week.

Similar to the bank data arrangement, PNR was set up in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, initially as a provisional deal which became a fully-fledged agreement. An EU court struck down the pact in 2006 after the European Parliament challenged its legal basis. A new deal was put in place in 2007 for seven years, but after the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the legislature's consent is needed afresh.

Ms in't Veld explained that instead of striking down PNR shortly after the entry into force of Lisbon last December, MEPs have given the EU commission the chance to first draw up a general mandate on PNR agreements and civil liberties safeguards which cane be used to amend the US pact. The commission proposals are due in autumn.

"We agreed to postpone the vote as a courtesy gesture, but that means we need an improved deal. All I hope is they are sensible enough to involve the parliament [in crafting the new mandate]," Ms in't Veld said.

Aware that the implications of a No vote would be greater than in the Swift case, with European carriers losing their licence to fly into the US, Ms in't Veld said she "hope[s] it doesn't come to it."

As it stands, the PNR deal allows US police, FBI and other intelligence gathering agencies to look at the personal data not only in terrorism cases, but also for "serious crimes" - a disputed term, which in the US refers to cross-border crimes punishable by at least three years in prison.

When in one incident a child was taken back to Europe by its non-custodial parent, US authorities tracked the two down via PNR on charges of "child abduction," despite the fact that in the EU this is not considered a "serious crime."

"We have to take a close look at the proportionality of this program. It's tough to asses, we are only given anecdotal cases, but there is a big difference between looking for known suspects and searching for potential criminals," the Dutch MEP said.

Another sticking point is the data retention period of 15 years for all personal profiles, which are set up automatically whenever someone books a transatlantic flight, as well as the difficulty of changing or deleting data, for instance if a person is mistakenly put on a watch list.

According to US officials, around 2,000 suspects are apprehended yearly thanks to the PNR scheme.

"PNR is an important tool. Last year, one third of the indiviuals identified as being involved in a nexus of terrorism came from PNR data," David Heyman, a senior advisor on counter-terrorism policies in the Department of Homeland Security told journalists in Washington during a briefing on 21 June.

He said so far the European Commission has not indicated it wants to renegotiate the agreement, but added that the Obama administration is fully aware of the new powers acquired by the European Parliament.

"We are aware of the post-Lisbon institutional changes. Europe is a complicated place, there are multiple layers of government, but the US is fully engaged with the EU," he said.

EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary

Prime minister Viktor Orbán's government has to implement 27 measures "fully and correctly" before any payment from the €5.8bn recovery fund can be made, or the suspended €7.5bn of cohesion funds can be unblocked.

Catalan spyware victims demand justice

Victims of the widening spyware scandal in Spain are demanding justice and reparations, following the revelations that journalists, lawyers, civil society and politicians had been targeted.

EU Commission to keep Hungary's EU funds in limbo

The EU executive, on the other hand, is expected to approve Hungary's recovery plan, worth €5.8bn, but only would disburse actual money if Hungary delivers on some 27 key reforms.

Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs

Terezija Gras from Croatia, Dutchman Hans Leijtens, and Frontex's current interim executive director Aija Kalnaja, are all competing for a job left vacant by the resignation of Fabrice Leggeri.

Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Over the last 10 years, Portugal has given 1,470 golden visas to people originating from countries whose tax-transparency practices the EU finds problematic. But unlike common practice in other EU states with similar programmes, Portugal has not implemented "due diligence".

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  2. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  3. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  4. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?
  5. Why the EU asbestos directive revision ... needs revising
  6. Nato renews membership vow to Ukraine
  7. Catalan spyware victims demand justice
  8. Is the overwhelming critique of Qatar hypocritical?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us