EU PNR deal could provide future standard in balancing security and civil liberties

The EU-PNR deal successfully balances civil liberties and security, but crucially it is now up to the member states to properly implement it, writes Timothy Kirkhope.

By Timothy Kirkhope

10 Jun 2016

The adoption of the EU-PNR agreement is probably one of the things I am most proud of during my time in Brussels as an MEP. The most valuable things are always the most hard fought for. 

It was not an easy process or negotiation, but I still believe that we ended up with a directive which is tough on criminals but proportionate in the kinds of information collected. A directive which provided the highest possible data protection standards and rights of redress, without hindering law enforcement authorities. 

I hope that this PNR agreement provides a future standard in the need to balance security with civil liberties. I have never believed that the two are mutually exclusive or one should supersede the other.


While PNR may not be the miracle solution to all the EU's crime and security problems, I believe it will prove to be a success in the same way these agreements have been in the UK, Australia and America, where the use of PNR has helped save lives, prevent crimes, and capture perpetrators. US authorities used PNR data more than 3000 times in 2008 and 2009 in order to prevent several high-profile terrorist plots. 

In October 2009, the Mumbai attack plotter David Headley was arrested in Chicago after American authorities accessed his PNR data from a flight Headley had booked from the US to Germany.

PNR tackles the worst kind of criminality, international drug traffickers, child and human traffickers, paedophiles, murderers and terrorists.

The value of accurate, relevant, and expedient information sharing among member states has never been so relevant, and I fully support the call by the European Commission and member states for better information sharing to be a key priority in the EU's internal security strategy.

Key to the success of PNR was the inclusion of collecting and sharing intra-EU flight data. Without this, the EU-PNR system would have created a huge hole in the efficiency and effectiveness of the system. Criminals do not always take the route A to B. Criminals go A to D, to C to B, in order to prevent detection by authorities.

That is why by collecting intra-EU data, we get the most complete picture of a person's movements and patterns of behaviour. Because that is what authorities are looking for: patterns.

Drug traffickers follow the same routes, they get on planes with no luggage and come back with two suitcases. Child traffickers give the same phone number whenever they meet a child at the airport, even though the names of the child may always be different.

PNR requires member states working quickly and effectively with the airlines and with each other to implement all its aspects as soon as possible.

Legislative measures from the EU mainly fail because some member states are not fully implementing the rules, and not implementing them in the spirit in which they were intended. Criminals exploit loopholes and poor implementation. This is why this should not be the end of the PNR discussion.

If it is truly to be a success, then review will be an important part of the process. A review of how it can be improved in the future, how we can make legislation work better. We must never just be content to adopt something and hope that it works; we should always be striving to make legislation work harder and work better. 

It may not be the most glamorous of topics, but it is an issue close to my heart. Good implementation across the EU is the crux of all that we agree. We can adopt the best laws in the world, but if they are not enforced properly then they are doomed to fail.

I am constantly asked by my constituents and by my colleagues why I see value in the UK being a member of the European Union; why Britain would be safer if they were in, rather than out. I am always asked to provide evidence of my support. I believe PNR and this agreement is that benefit. 

The UK government was one of the greatest supporters of this agreement. We live in a globalised world, and the UK government believed that replicating the system and success we had enjoyed in the UK on collecting and sharing such data could be extended across the EU.

Sharing this data with all other European member states with the same standards, protections, and rules can only be an improvement in collecting and sharing this information.

Collecting and sharing this information at a bilateral level would only lead to a patchwork of different systems, inconsistencies, lengthy bureaucratic procedures, and loopholes.

Only time will really tell, but I believe we got the balance right and did all we could to get the best result. If this agreement stops one child being tracked, then I believe that the long hours, the frustrations, and all the political fights will have been worth it.


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