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EU Commission proposes new directive on storing air passenger details

EU destination countries will get passenger lists, but can't keep them

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Details of passengers on every flight within the European Union will be passed to destination countries under European Commission proposals published today.

The Commission has proposed a Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive ordering airlines to send the information it holds on its passengers to authorities in the destination country as a matter of course.

The US, Canada and Australia already require PNR data to be sent to them before planes can land, but the Directive would for the first time force the sending of data for every internal EU flight.

EU law enforcement authorities do sometimes collect PNR information for particular flights but the Commission's plan would result in those demands being made for every flight.

The European Parliament and privacy watchdogs have expressed concern in the past about the US's demands for PNR data and have urged the European Commission to limit the amount of data per passenger that is transferred to US authorities.

The information that is transferred under PNR arrangements is data that is collected by airlines in the booking process and includes names of travellers and fellow travellers; dates of travel and of booking travel; all available contact details; baggage information; and travel itineraries.

The European Parliament has questioned the need for PNR arrangements with the US in the past and has blocked deals with US authorities.

EU privacy watchdog the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), who is responsible for EU governing bodies' privacy law compliance, said last year that new rules for the transfer of PNR data to countries outside the EU did not protect individuals' privacy enough.

"The EDPS considers that the bulk transfer of data about innocent people for risk assessment purposes raises serious proportionality issues," said an opinion (nine-page/60KB PDF) published last year. "The EDPS questions in particular the proactive use of PNR data. While 're-active' use of data does not raise major concerns, as far as it is part of an investigation of a crime already committed, real time and proactive use lead to a more critical assessment."

The Commission said in a statement that the data would be useful to law enforcement agencies. "Member states will analyse and retain the data for the purpose of preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting serious crime and terrorist offences," it said.

The Commission said that the data transfer process did include privacy safeguards. "PNR data may not be used for any purpose except fighting serious crime and terrorist offences," said the statement. "Law enforcement authorities in member states must make the data anonymous one month after the flight, and data must not be retained for more than five years in total.

"Sensitive data that could reveal racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, or religious beliefs may never be transferred by air carriers to, or in any way used by, the member states," it said. "Member states must set up dedicated units to handle the data and keep it secure and ensure those units are monitored by an independent supervisory (data protection) authority.

"Clear rules on passengers' right to accurate information about the collection of PNR data are also introduced, as well as rules giving passengers the right to access, rectify, and delete their data, and to compensation and judicial remedies," it said.

"This proposal for an EU PNR Directive is an important part of EU security policy," said Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs. "Common EU rules are necessary to fight serious crime such as drug-smuggling and people trafficking as well as terrorism, and to ensure that passengers' privacy is respected and their rights fully protected in all Member States. The proposal requires member states to anonymise all PNR data that is collected."

Copyright © 2011, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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