EU air passenger record vote raises mass data collection concerns

Parliament's civil rights committee has approved plans for EU passenger name records but MEPs have warned of threat to fundamental rights.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

16 Jul 2015

Parliament's civil liberties, justice and home affairs (LIBE) committee has approved draft plans for a passenger name record (PNR) system, including safeguards and rules on sharing the information collected.

The report, authored by European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group deputy Timothy Kirkhope, was first presented to parliament in 2011 but was rejected. It has now been approved by 32 votes to 27.

Data would be collected in 19 different fields, such as contact details, travel dates, itinerary and baggage information. 


It would then be stored for up to 30 days, after which time the information would only be accessible to a handful of authorised personnel, for up to four years in serious transnational crime cases and five years for terrorism cases.

"PNR", explained Kirkhope, "is used for detecting patterns of behaviour but not for profiling people on the basis of, for example, their meal choices."

He argued that "it actually reduces profiling by focusing on behaviour rather than on people's backgrounds" and that the information that would be collected is less than what a person would willingly reveal to sign up to a supermarket club card.

If implemented, EU PNR would only concern flights to and from the EU, not internal ones. The British MEP said, "in the compromise talks with other political groups, I've been keen to take on board their views and in particular, it became clear to me that internal flights would not at this stage gain support, so these were taken out of my proposal."

Despite these changes, "some MEPs still did not support my report and I frankly suspect never would. That is of course their democratic choice but in my view, they are being short-sighted. Without EU PNR, member states could just set up their own PNR systems without any safeguards being in place",

Kirkhope pointed out.
With centre-left and left MEPs having voted down the report, European People's Party group shadow rapporteur Axel Voss commented, "it is irresponsible that the Socialists voted against the EU PNR system. They are not interested in securing the lives of our citizens."

Nevertheless, he was pleased that, "at last, we have taken a step forward with a potential tool for counterterrorism."

Vice-chair of parliament's Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group Tanja Fajon stressed that, "we need measures that are effective, necessary and proportionate for the detection and prevention of serious crimes. Socialists and Democrats are clearly saying no massive surveillance of EU citizens."

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) vice-chair Sophie in' t Veld, noted that, "there was a good ALDE proposal on the table for targeted, risk-based use of passenger data." 

"It would have reconciled the aims of security and fundamental rights, and it would have aligned the use of PNR with recent case law banning unlimited, indiscriminate data collection of all passengers, without any suspicion." 

However, this idea was not supported by MEPs, and as a result in' t Veld believed that "the current text brings neither greater security, nor greater protection of fundamental rights" and that "the vote leaves it - once again - to the courts to ensure the protection of fundamental rights and the rule of law."

Last year, the European court of justice (ECJ) ruled that storing personal data without justification was illegal, something that Greens/European Free Alliance deputy Jan Albrecht was quick to point out, saying, "the shamelessness with which centre-right and some centre-left MEPs disregarded the jurisprudence of the ECJ and voted in favour of unjustified mass surveillance of all air passengers is alarming".

He added, "if these proposals do not infringe constitutional or treaty provisions, then civil rights in the EU is meaningless."

Timothy Kirkhope has now been given a mandate to enter into trilogues with the commission in council, which he hopes will begin in September.


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