Slurping air passengers' private details not great for privacy, concede EU data bods

WP29 group stops short of actually blocking it, though

Despite calls for increased monitoring of airline passengers after the Charlie Hebdo murders, EU data protection authorities have repeated that the indiscriminate nature of passenger name record data processing means it is likely to undermine EU citizens' right to privacy.

The Article 29 Working Party (WP29), made up of the 28 independent national data protection bodies in the EU, said on Thursday that it is neither for nor against passenger name record (PNR) data collection, but that such an interference with the right to privacy must be necessary and proportional.

PNR data collected by airlines includes the passenger's flight itinerary, the flights in question, the passenger’s land contact information (home and professional telephone number, etc), the flights’ rates, the payment status, the passenger’s bank card number, as well as requested in-flight services such as specific food preferences (vegetarian, kosher, etc) or those relating to the passenger’s health status.

However, unwilling to cut off its nose to spite its face, the WP29 group said it would work with the European Council, European Commission and EU Parliament to ensure any future law would respect EU citizens’ rights.

Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, head of the French data protection authority CNIL, is currently chair of the WP29. Any criticism of PNR by WP29 under her stewardship could put her on a collision path with French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

Cazeneuve told MEPs this week that they “must” support an EU-wide PNR programme. He said PNR would allow authorities to track terrorists’ “travel paths”, conveniently forgetting that the Charlie Hebdo attackers didn’t use flights to transport their illegally obtained weapons from Belgium.

The majority of the European Parliament has been opposed to PNR tracking for some years, even more so since the European Court of Justice ruled last year that blanket data retention is illegal. With national governments increasingly pushing for a PNR scheme the battle lines are becoming more firmly drawn, while WP29 seems to prefer the no man’s land in between. ®

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