EU PNR proposal is 'neither proportionate nor appropriate'

Written by Jörg Leichtfried on 11 March 2015 in Feature

It is far from clear whether the new passenger name directive is necessary, argues Jörg Leichtfried.

In the aftermath of the shocking terrorist attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and on Jewish institutions in France and Denmark, calls for an EU-wide passenger name record (PNR) system are becoming louder. 

In recent meetings, the EU’s interior ministers and heads of government have expressed their clear wish for the rapid introduction of such a database to be used for search purposes to prevent future terrorist attacks.

PNR data is information collected by airlines on their passengers, regardless of where they fly. A PNR will typically contain information of a sensitive nature, such as the passenger’s full name, date of birth, home and work addresses, telephone number, email address, credit card details, internet protocol address if booked online, as well as the names and personal information of emergency contacts.

"Terrorism has to be fought at its roots by preventing discrimination and radicalisation"

As PNR is a tool to attempt to find unknown suspects from the data of innocent people, not the ones that are already known to the police (as was the case with the Paris attacks), we need to be extra vigilant that all the necessary safeguards are in place to preserve our fundamental rights and privacy. 

The blanket retention of data as it is proposed currently is neither proportionate nor appropriate. If the European parliament wants to respect its commitment to working towards finalising an EU PNR directive by the end of 2015 and complying with the European court of justice (ECJ) ruling on data retention, the commission first has to provide us with an evaluation of the effect of that judgment on their current EU PNR proposal.

Despite our calls, the commission has not yet demonstrated that their draft legislation on EU PNR is legally sound and not at risk of being rejected by the ECJ as the legislation on data retention was. An evaluation by the commission to be presented during the March Strasbourg plenary sitting is therefore anticipated with great interest.

In any case, the S&D group will insist the EU data protection package is finalised. The two files - PNR and the data protection package - need to go hand in hand.

At the same time we must ask ourselves is there really a specific added value from an EU PNR system or could better use be made of existing measures, such as the Schengen information system. 

Too often, the problem is not a lack of data, but a lack of information sharing between the member states. We need to get away from a one-dimensional approach to combating terrorism and hate crime. 

More surveillance alone will not solve our problems. Terrorism has to be fought at its roots by preventing discrimination and radicalisation.

We Socialist and Democrats will accept additional safety measures only if they are necessary and fundamental rights are not unreasonably restricted.


About the author

Jörg Leichtfried (AT) is a vice-chair of parliament’s S&D group

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