Euro ministers trade data for data protection – yes, your passenger records

Lawmakers still worried about legality of blanket retention

Samuel L Jackson locates late passengers with RFID

After weeks of mounting pressure from national governments for increased access to personal data following the Charlie Hebdo attack, the European Parliament has pulled a switch that aims to simultaneously increase citizens’ privacy rights while also giving law enforcement agencies more ability to track travellers.

As they twist and turn like a twisty turny thing, MEPs are essentially leveraging national governments’ desire for a PNR (Passenger Name Record) tracking system to get the draft Data Protection Regulation legislation approved.

In a resolution approved by 532 votes to 136, with 36 abstentions, lawmakers demanded that member states make faster progress on the new data protection laws “so that talks could proceed in parallel with those on an EU Passenger Name Record proposal”.

In other words, give us what we want and we might relent on our opposition to PNR. MEPs said they would work “towards the finalisation of an EU PNR directive by the end of the year”.

However, Jan Philipp Albrecht, the German MEP who has successfully steered the Data Protection Regulation this far, was against the move, believing that PNR should not be negotiated on any terms.

He points to the ruling by the European Court of Justice last year which annulled the Data Retention Directive on the grounds that indiscriminate, blanket data retention is illegal.

There are concerns from some MEPs that PNR, which the the Parliament has in the past rejected, is exactly the sort of blanket information gathering that the ECJ blocked.

The PNR proposal would involved gathering all the information collected by airlines about passengers, including sensitive and personal information such as email addresses, credit card details, phone numbers, meal choices (halal, kosher, etc).

Even Birgit Sippel, an MEP who voted in favour of the resolution, admitted that “the current draft EU PNR proposal needs to be revised to comply with the ECJ judgement on the Data Retention Directive".

The Parliament also proposes other steps, such as investment in educational and social schemes that address the root causes of radicalisation, “disengagement and de-radicalisation” programmes and increased information sharing.

“Member states should improve the exchange of information between law enforcement authorities and EU agencies. Only 50 per cent of information regarding terrorism and organised crime is currently given by member states to Europol and Eurojust,” highlights the Parliament statement. ®

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