PNR talks between EU and US move slowly

By EDRi · December 3, 2003

Talks between the European Commission and the US department of Homeland
Security about airline passenger data are moving very slowly. Commissioner
Frits Bolkestein told the European Parliament that the US are only willing
to compromise on a few disagreements. Most importantly the US do not want
to limit the use of airline passenger data to the purpose of fighting

Since March the US are demanding passenger data from European airlines
flying to or through the US. The data is sent to the US prior to flight
departure and used by the US to screen passengers and apply a risk
assessment. The passenger name record data (PNR) consist of many data
items: departure and return flights, connecting flights, special services
required on board the flight (meals such as Kosher, Halal) and payment
information such as credit card numbers. Airlines might lose landing
rights if they do not comply with US demands. European Parliament, the
European Data Commissioners and even the European Commission agree that
the current transfer of passenger data violates EU privacy regulations.

On 9 October the European Parliament passed a resolution concerning the
transfer of passenger data to the US. The resolution details various
concessions the European Commission must require of the United States
concerning data protection and collection limitation, and requires that
the Commission act within two months or else be brought to the Court of
Justice by the European Parliament for failure to do so.

On 1 December Commissioner Frits Bolkestein gave an overview of where the
negotiation stands. The retention period is down from the previous 7 years
to 3,5 years. The number of required PNR items is only down from 39 to 34
items. But most importantly, the US don’t want to limit the use of PNR to
fighting terrorism. Previously the US said it wanted to use the data also
for combating ‘other serious crimes’. Bolkestein told Parliament that “the
US text is more precise than it was, but barely any narrower.” The only
‘concession’ the Commission got is that the US will use the PNR only for
crimes that are punishable by a minimum imprisonment term of at least 4
years. That still makes the use of PNR possible for a huge variety of
crimes that are not related to terrorism at all.

Stefano Rodota, chair of the European Data Commissioners, already said
that the US concessions won’t comply with European law: “there are no
grounds for saying that the American system is proper and suitable”.

Marco Cappato, Italian member of European Parliament, has asked the
Commission to take action against airlines that have passed his PNR to the

Bolkestein has committed himself to reach an agreement with the US before

Speech by Frits Bolkestein (01.12.2003)

Speech by Stefano Rodota (25.11.2003)

Marco Cappato complaints to Commission (07.11.2003)

Travel Data and Privacy