Thursday

20th Feb 2020

Focus

EU to tighten privacy rules on air passenger data

  • Flying to the US, Canada or Australia also means handing out your personal data (Photo: Plasmastik)

The EU commission wants to strengthen privacy rules for the sharing of personal data of air travellers to the US, Australia and Canada and to limit the use of the data strictly to fighting terrorism and serious organised crime.

"We need to have coherence between the usefullness of collecting this data in the fight against terrorism and organised crime, but carriers and passengers need legal clarity and high levels of data protection," home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said Tuesday (21 September) during a press conference in Strasbourg.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

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

... or join as a group

Three new agreements are set to be negotiated with the US, Canada and Australia, to replace existing ones which the European Parliament has deemed to have too few privacy safeguards.

Currently all passenger data, including personal addresses, passport numbers, credit card data, gender and age are automatically transmitted to the law enforcement agencies in those countries and can be used in the fight against terrorism and organised crime.

The agreement with the US is particularly controversial, since it was negotiated under the George W. Bush administration with a broad range of applications, replacing another one which was struck down by the European Court of Justice for lacking an appropriate legal base.

The commission proposals, which include a set of common principles for any future Passenger Name Record (PNR) deals with other countries, are a compromise formula with the European Parliament, which gained the power to strike down such international agreements with the Lisbon Treaty.

It already did so in February, with another sensitive data transfer deal for anti-terrorism purposes – the so-called Swift agreement. Faced with a "security gap" as EU banking data stopped flowing, the US and member states put the EU commission under pressure to quickly negotiate a new deal, which was approved by the legislature and came into force on 1 August.

The PNR deal is not "under deadline" as the Swift one was, one EU official told this website, but some lessons have been learned both in Washington and EU capitals as to what the European Parliament can do if its requests are ignored.

"The principles reflect very much the resolution adopted by the parliament in May calling for increased privacy, monitoring and safeguards," Ms Malmstrom said. She will "work as closely as possible" with the EU legislature in the negotiations on the new agreements, she added.

The commission explained that other countries are setting up PNR systems and that Japan has already requested a similar deal with the EU, which made it necessary to have a "common set of norms and standards" before engaging in any new negotiations.

Agreements will be concluded "only with countries which have high levels of data protection in line with EU standards," she said.

Sensitive data, such as religious beliefs – revealed by meal preferences – or health condition should be given "only in very exceptional circumstances," while all the other categories "must be limited to minimum and clearly listed."

Passengers will have to be informed about the processing of their data and have the right to see and correct it, as well as have ways of redress in case of wrongdoing.

No automatic profiling will be allowed and an oversight of an independent authority will be required for the entire program.

"PNR transfers have been going on for 60 years, carriers are obliged to do it, otherwise thay can't land. But we want legal clarity for passengers and to embed it with as many data protection provisions as possible," the Swedish commissioner said.

Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld, responsible with drafting the position of the Parliament when the new agreements will be concluded said she was "cautiously positive" about the proposals.

"The commission has listened to the European Parliament and taken onboard many of our concerns. But let's see how much of that is adopted and flows into the end agreement," she told this website.

One issue that was still contentious, in the Dutch politician's view, was that the "justification is still weak."

"The commission works under assumption that mass collection of PNR data is necessary. I have not seen any data that proves this is the case," she said.

Seen from the US side, the PNR agreement is a useful tool in fighting terrorism and crime, "with no identified incidents of the US government misusing that data," a source from US mission in Brussels told EUobserver.

MEPs demand explanation on US plan to monitor all money transfers

The EU commission and MEPs have requested clarifications from Washington on reported plans to expand an anti-terrorism programme targeting financial transactions - a move that would render void the long-debated "Swift agreement" enacted in August.

European Transport

Careful transport policy is seen as key to helping the EU on its way to economic recovery. But it needs to take into account two big factors - empty public coffers and environmental concerns. EUobserver turns the spotlight on the latest developments in the sector.

Transport no longer a 'nuisance' policy, Kallas says

EU transport policy has been transformed from being regarded as a 'nuisance' policy to being seen as key to achieving the Union's longterm economic goals, the EU transport chief tells EUobserver.

Brussels to unveil 'core' transport network in September

The European Commission is in September due to publish an overhaul of its approach to achieving the longterm plan of connecting Europe's railways, airports, ports and roads. It is expected to unleash a furious bout of lobbying.

News in Brief

  1. EU unveils white paper on AI and data strategy
  2. Dutch court rules against Russia in €46bn Yukos case
  3. Britain to bar 'Polish plumber-type' migrants
  4. Greece seeks EU help to get back classical statues from UK
  5. HSBC to cut 35,000 jobs worldwide
  6. Regions chief appeals against cutting EU cohesion funds
  7. Verhofstadt criticises UK Brexit negotiator
  8. Turkish court acquits Gezi park activists

Column

Western 'endarkenment' and the voodoo politics of Europe

The continent that gave the world the Enlightenment has collectively reverted to believing in fairy tales and the soothing power of cozy narrowness. Moscow and Beijing like what they see, and are doing everything to strengthen the trend.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  2. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December

Latest News

  1. EU leaders face major clash on rule of law budget link
  2. North Macedonia warns EU on 'dirtiest ever' election
  3. Western 'endarkenment' and the voodoo politics of Europe
  4. Warning of agricultural 'digital arms race' in EU
  5. Cayman Islands put on tax-haven blacklist after Brexit
  6. Boris' Brexit bluff? - UK will resist alignment to the end
  7. US still open to Kosovo-Serbia land swap
  8. EU countries enter final phase of budget talks

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us