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UK will share passenger data with US in Euro deal

Home Office: 'Sensitive stuff will be filtered'

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The UK has opted in to the EU passenger name record (PNR) agreement with the United States, Home Office minister Damien Green has confirmed.

"The UK, in common with many other EU member states and third countries, places considerable value on the collection and analysis of PNR data (that data collected by carriers in the exercise of their business) for the purpose of preventing terrorism and serious crime," Green said in a written ministerial statement.

PNR data is mainly used as a criminal intelligence tool to identify potential passenger risks and to provide law enforcement authorities with data prior to the arrival or departure of a flight.

"We fully recognise the importance of working with partners outside the EU given that the threats we face are global in nature and, in common with other EU member states, we view the US as a key partner," the minister added.

Outlining the plans, Green said the agreement:

  • restricts the purposes for which data can be processed to the prevention of and combating of terrorist offences and serious trans-national crime;
  • requires data to be masked after six months and transferred to a dormant database after five years. Data may be retained in the dormant database for a period of up to 10 years, during which additional controls will apply, including a more restricted number of personnel authorised to access it as well as a higher level of supervisory approval required; and
  • provides that masked data can only be re-personalised in connection with an identifiable case, threat or risk. After five years in the dormant database – 10 years in total – data can only be re-personalised for the purpose of preventing and combating terrorist offences.

The agreement, which replaces one applied provisionally from July 2007, also stipulates that sensitive personal data must be filtered out and may only be accessed in "exceptional circumstances" where the life of an individual may by imperilled or seriously impaired. The agreement would only permit onward data transmission to a third country on a case-by-case basis, Green said.

The transfer of PNR data has historically caused concern around civil liberties and privacy due to the collection and storage of individuals' personal data, which the minister sought to address.

"We are firmly committed to consistency in our approach to civil liberties and will seek to translate our domestic agenda to the EU level. This includes: purpose limitation; rigorous evidence based arguments; the principles of necessity and proportionality; stringent data protection safeguards, especially when handling sensitive personal data; independent data protection oversight; and, of course, full compliance with EU law and the EU treaties."

In November 2011 the government revealed it intentions to reach an arrangement with the US and said that discussions regarding a EU-US agreement on PNR had reached an advanced stage and a "political understanding had been reached".

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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