EU secret profiling of air passengers nominated for “big brother awards”

By EDRi · September 11, 2015


Over the past 15 years, human rights, including the right to privacy, have been traded away to create ever-more invasive measures designed sometimes as tools to protect society against possible terrorist threats and sometimes as a means of being seen to be doing “something” in a show of security theatre. The leitmotif: “Safety First”. The cumulative effect of the measures has produced a level of surveillance far beyond what many would have believed possible fifteen years ago. Therefore, EDRi joins the Liga voor Mensenrechten in its fight against the surveillance society and nominates the European Passenger Name Record (EU PNR) proposal for the Big Brother Award 2015.

Starting today, people can vote for their favourite candidate via and register here to attend EDRi’s Privacy Salon at the Award Ceremony. The winner will receive the Big Brother Award on the 15 October 2015 at 7pm in the KVS, Brussels.

The candidate:

The European “Passenger Name Record” system (“EU-PNR”) plans to collect and store data from all passengers flying from and to the EU – for up to five years to fight “terrorism” and “serious crimes”, with the data being used to establish “profiles” of individuals, to guess who might be a terrorist or other serious criminal. For years, Gilles de Kerchove, the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, has continued to push this proposal, despite the human rights concerns raised by data protection experts and other international bodies, as well as a complete lack of evidence of necessity, proportionality and, therefore, legality.

Passenger Name Records (PNR) are data containing information provided by air passengers and collected by air carriers for commercial purposes. These include information on dates, itinerary and contact details but also data that give more serious insights about the individual such as medical information, meal preferences (which can indicate religious affiliation), payment information etc.

Why the candidate should win the Award for the worst privacy invasion:

  • Lack of evidence showing that the measure is effective, necessary and proportionate in the detection or prevention of serious crimes. From the European Commission’s impact assessment, there is no worthwhile evidence on the possible usefulness of PNR collection for the tackling of serious crime or terrorist offences. In this regard, it is particularly worrying that the European Commission states in its proposal that “PNR data is unverified information provided by passengers” while claiming to be convinced that it could be used in real time “to prevent a crime”.
  • Lack of proportionality: The Fundamental Rights Agency, the European Data Protection Supervisor, and the Article 29 Working party of national data protection commissioners agree on the lack of proportionality of the proposal. The proposed EU PNR system foresees data collection and analysis for all passengers on international flights without any sort of targeting.
  • Excessive Data Retention Period: Even if the retention of data in the PNR context were necessary and proportionate, the proposed storage period (up to five years) is excessive and lacking any meaningful justification
  • The ruling of the EU’s court, the Court of Justice, concerning the invalidation of the Data Retention Directive: The underlying analysis provided in that ruling makes it difficult to believe that the current PNR proposal would be considered lawful
  • Excessive costs: Transposing such Directive will bring significant costs for Member States. The high expenditure is confirmed by the controversial call for proposal of 50 million euros issued by the European Commission to build PNR systems in several Member States. These funds were made available even though the legislation has not been agreed.

The Big Brother Awards annually “rewards”the greatest violator of privacy. The Big Brother Awards is organised by the Liga voor Mensenrechten, in cooperation with European Digital Rights, Orde van Vlaamse Balies, Vlaamse Vereniging van Journalisten, Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, Kinderrechtencoalitie,, Mediawijsheid and the Koninklijke Vlaamse Stadsschouwburg.

For more information, please contact Kirsten Fiedler, EDRi’s Managing Director at 02/274.25.70 or Caroline De Geest, Beleidsmedewerker Liga voor Mensenrechten at 09/223.07.38.