EU-Canada airline passenger data-sharing is not a done deal

MEPs ask ECJ to rule on legality of PNR agreement

A European deal to share airline travellers’ personal information with Canada could be chucked out after MEPs asked the ECJ to intervene.

On Tuesday, the European Parliament voted by 383 to 271 to refer the EU-Canada PNR (air passenger data) agreement to the European Court of Justice over concerns that such mass collection and storage of data is against fundamental privacy rights.

The bilateral deal was signed in June this year after long negotiations. However, in April the ECJ threw out the Data Retention Directive, with many parliamentarians concerned the PNR agreement might breach EU law in the same way.

PNR data is information on passengers collected by air carriers and includes name, dates of travel, address, email, phone numbers, credit card number, etc. Those arguing against the deal say that such blanket data retention not only breaches fundamental rights, but is also ineffective.

“There is no proof that the mass collection and storage of air passenger data helps in combating terrorism, as some claim," said Green euro lawmaker Jan Philipp Albrecht. "The recent attack on the Canadian parliament would not have been prevented by PNR exchange for example. While the exchange of passenger data may create a false sense of security, it is neither necessary nor effective in fighting terrorism and involves a large and unjustifiable cost."

Austrian MEP Jörg Leichtfried also said data protection concerns must be taken seriously: "We should not rush into an agreement that has potentially far-reaching consequences for the civil liberties of EU citizens and might undermine ongoing work on the data protection package."

The EU-Canada PNR agreement requires the consent of the European Parliament before it can be made law, but that will not now be forthcoming until the ECJ gives its legal opinion.

But it doesn’t end there. If the ECJ decides that the deal with Canada is illegal, it would have clear implications for similar agreements with the US and Australia. ®

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