Parliament's civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee has approved a provisional deal that was reached with the Council on an EU directive regulating the use of passenger name record data (PNR). MEPs are now set to vote on the directive in plenary early next year.
Once in place, the EU PNR means that airlines will have to provide their passengers' data to the member states, such as their contact details, payment or baggage information. This would be mandatory for flights to and from third countries, with data being retained for a period of five years.
Policymakers have been discussing PNR since 2007, but the topic has gained momentum following a string of terrorist attacks across Europe. However, PNR will not be limited to combating terrorism; it is also expected to help authorities battle other types of major crime, such as human trafficking.
Parliament's rapporteur on the dossier, ECR deputy Timothy Kirkhope, was predictably pleased with the outcome of the vote. He said; "We're finally now on the home straight for an EU PNR system. It's been a long time coming."
He stressed that such a mechanism was not, "a silver bullet, and nor have I agreed it in response to one specific attack, however horrific that might have been. However, we would be abdicating our responsibilities to ensure the safety of our electors had we not agreed to this."
Kirkhope also underlined that he, "fought very hard to include provisions for the sharing of data - this will now only occur where relevant and necessary. It must be relevant; otherwise it will lead to blanket retention."
PNR has been hugely controversial, with the European court of justice striking down blanket data retention. Just as Parliament's vote was taking place, the European data protection supervisor (EDPS) issued a press release warning that the usefulness of such a system was as yet unproven, and that its legality was questionable.
Kirkhope admitted he had been "somewhat surprised" by the EDPS' statement, given that, "we've had plenty of consultations with his organisation. That he has obviously failed to note what is in the deal is alarming."
The British MEP was, "not sure it adds anything, and the timing is rather curious for an independent organisation."
The EDPS did insist, however, that it would "unconditionally support" legislators going forward.
Also in favour of the deal was EPP group shadow rapporteur Axel Voss, who was pleased that "common sense has prevailed."
He added; "The compromise agreed is a good piece of EU law and the EU PNR system will help investigations of criminal and terrorist offences. It will therefore help prevent further attacks, making our citizens' lives safer."
Meanwhile, S&D group Chair Gianni Pittella conceded that; "PNR alone will not solve all our security problems. However, it represents a positive first step towards the creation of a common European investigative and intelligence framework."
"We have seen the ineffectiveness of the solely national approach. We desperately need coordinated and comprehensive European tools to tackle the threat of terror."
But ALDE group MEP Sophie in 't Veld, who voted against the deal, argued that, "the current proposal only provides a false sense of security." She explained that; "National security and law enforcement authorities will be able to retain passenger data in a near unlimited manner, but mandatory sharing of the analysis of this data has been rejected by member states."
"Criminals and terrorists work effectively across borders. That is why the Liberals also want police and security services to work together in a concerted manner. After every attack, it turns out that information on the assailants was readily available, but simply not shared. National government services have to start looking across borders and share their information."
Greens/EFA deputy Jan Albrecht was also extremely critical of PNR, saying; "The blanket collection and retention of all air passenger data, without suspicion, is nothing more than a placebo. There is no evidence it will improve security."
"At an estimated cost of €500m, it is an expensive diversion from real solutions to combating terrorism. Resources are badly needed for police and security services and cooperation between the different authorities across Europe."
Albrecht added; "There should be clear time limit on any surveillance and data retention and only for flights from destinations with a known risk, such as Turkey or Syria. Unfortunately, there seems to be no majority in the Parliament for these proposals."