Parliament's rapporteurs divided over PNR

Written by Julie Levy-Abegnoli on 10 February 2015 in News

Timothy Kirkhope calls it 'an invaluable tool', while Jan Albrecht says it is 'completely illegal'.

As Europe finds itself in the grip of fear amid renewed terror threats, there have been calls for increased security measures in the EU. One of the issues at the heart of the debate is that of passenger name records (PNR). Yet parliament's rapporteur on the topic Timothy Kirkhope insists an EU-wide PNR (EUPNR) has been in the works "for the last three years".

He refutes accusations that such a system has made its way back to the spotlight as a reaction to the recent events in Paris, explaining, "it was not designed to work just for one atrocity or just for one incident." 

"[PNR] is also there for the purpose of not only catching terrorists or detaining or deterring them, it's also there for the purpose of major criminals - human traffickers and people who run drug rings, for example. It has always had a much wider reach", he underlines.

The British deputy adds, "there is no doubt in my mind that as a tool for law enforcement authorities, it's invaluable." Yet not everyone in parliament is in favour of such measures.

"There is no doubt in my mind that as a tool for law enforcement authorities, it's invaluable" - Timothy Kirkhope

Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur Jan Albrecht has repeatedly said that any PNR system would be "completely illegal", as the "European court of justice [ruled that] there must always be a link to suspicions or a risk in order to retain personal data from citizens". With a PNR system, data would be collected on all travellers.

He believes that "instead, we should think about how we can exchange information on relevant suspicious or risky people in the EU, which would be far more effective in terms of law enforcement."

This sentiment was echoed by European data protection supervisor (EDPS) Giovanni Buttarelli, who told the Parliament Magazine that, "before introducing new systems which are very costly at a time of austerity, we should consider what is already available - is this an issue of a lack of information or is this an issue of better use and better sharing of information?"

He also noted that ,"any time [something happens], the reaction is, 'we need new information', while the existing information is underestimated or not used properly. The French events demonstrated that PNR would not be so useful, because [in that case the authorities] already had all the relevant information."

"We should think about how we can exchange information on relevant suspicious or risky people in the EU, which would be far more effective in terms of law enforcement" - Jan Albrecht

The Italian official stressed that, "before moving to new measures in a period of austerity, let's look at existing tools."

One person who was left unimpressed with these remarks is Axel Voss, EPP shadow rapporteur on PNR. He suggested that, "if the EDPS wants to do politics here, I would say he should leave this to us. Whether [PNR] is necessary or not is not a question for the EDPS". 

Instead, he says the EDPS should "give us ideas on how to safeguard privacy depending on the measures we implement" and that "if he is now going to be an expert on what data is most useful, then he is doing his job the wrong way."

In terms of collecting and analysing PNR data, the German MEP explains, "I was the only one who said that for EUPNR to have an added value, we should establish one authority collecting information for the member states", but that such a measure did not win a majority. 

Instead, each member state is due to collect its own data, "so now we have must solve the problem of how to exchange the information acquired, which might lead to a kind of platform - maybe Europol - to combine and analyse all of the data" and pass it on to national authorities as they request it. "In any case", he adds, "we need an EUPNR system".

Voss points out that "the exchange of information might be improvable - we need to find a platform to do this." In his view, a PNR system would be particularly useful in tackling  "foreign fighters", in order "to better see where they are going and how they are moving".

While the issue is sure to provoke heated debate in the chamber, Timothy Kirkhope hopes to reach an agreement "before the end of term".


About the author

Julie Levy-Abegnoli is a journalist and editorial assistant for the Parliament Magazine

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