EP discussions on international agreements on passenger name records

By EDRi · July 13, 2011

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [EP-Debatten zu internationalen Fluggastdatenabkommen | http://www.unwatched.org/EDRigram_9.14_EP_Debatten_zu_internationalen_Fluggastdatenabkommen?pk_campaign=edri&pk_kwd=20110721]

At the European Parliament (EP) plenary session on Monday 4 July 2011, a
debate took place regarding the current development of passenger name
records (PNR) agreements with the United States, Canada and Australia. The
debate attracted a very large number of speakers.

Opening the debate, Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL, Germany) raised broad concerns
regarding necessity, proportionality and the need for a ban on profiling.
She opposed the Australian agreement because exported data will fall under
Australian law, contrary to the Treaty. She bemoaned the absence of a
definition of profiling and asked why this still was not available.

Jan Albrecht (Greens/EFA, Germany) said that the Parliament had been
repeatedly clear that it opposed profiling and data mining. However, instead
of respecting this position, the Commission gave a blank cheque to the
countries it was negotiating with. He said that the Parliament had asked for
a legal opinion and for a data protection impact assessment and got nothing.
He accused the Commissioner of hiding under a blanket like a scared child
faced with these difficulties and that this was embarrassing.

Birgit Sippel (S+D, Germany) expressed surprise at the current state of
play. She said that the issues are not new and not alone are we not moving
forward, but we are going backwards instead. She said that the proposed
Australia agreement is in trouble and she’d like to hope that this is due to
Member States realising that all ends do not justify all means. You cannot
hold data on millions of citizens for years on the basis that it might be
used for something that might be useful – this is what the EU/US deal
currently says and this is unacceptable.

Timothy Kirkhope (ECR, UK) (a member of the larger political party in the UK
government coalition which promised less needless data collection when it
took over, before strongly supporting PNR) said there are still issues to be
resolved. Nonetheless, it is important to swiftly adopt the agreements,
while gaining as much information as possible from the Commission. The
necessity and proportionality of the approach have long been obvious, he
said, inter alia for fighting terrorism and rape (sic). He described
disagreements on how long data should be stored as “ideological”. We have to
move forward and do our jobs, he concluded.

Sophie In’t Veld (ALDE, Netherlands) said that long term storage is the
biggest problem. Storing data on innocent citizens in the vague hope that it
might be useful sometime is not proportionate.

Axel Voss (EPP, Germany) considered that it is important to have security
and freedom in a right balance and that there are different types of
profiling and some are more balanced than others.

Cecilia Malmström said the US/Canada/Australia agreements are at an advanced
stage with important decisions pending. Once these are finished a
multilateral approach will be followed rather than continuing with the
current country-by-country approach.

Most of her subsequent answer was a repetition of the explanatory memorandum
of the EU PNR Directive proposal which was launched in February. On
necessity, she said that the impact assessment pointed out that PNR is used
by a growing number of countries to fight terrorism. PNR can help identify
unknown people on the basis of travel patterns of known groups like human
traffickers – omitting to point out how data such as what the human
traffickers had for dinner would be useful. This data has been useful for
fighting drug smuggling and human trafficking. However, strong data
protection guarantees are necessary. There is no definition of profiling,
but it is understood as automated processing. She explained that there are
three different uses for PNR data – reactive, real time and pro-active. Only
real-time processing could be considered profiling but the EU/Australia
requires human intervention and they hope to add this to EU/Australia and
EU/US – so it is not fully automated.

EU/Australia respects the legal framework and has strong purpose limitation
and data protection. She said that several EU countries entered agreements
as parts of the Visa Waiver Programme which were to form the basis of data
exchange. These are not PNR agreements. She acknowledged the internal
Commission assessment of the legality of the EU/US agreement and said that
“a small number” of aspects are being discussed with the US with a view to
improvement. She stressed that agreements are already in place and the
current exercise is to improve them.

In the meantime, the European civil society has started a PNR Postcard
campaign – to write postcards during your holidays to the Members of the
European Parliament and ask them to vote against the PNR-Agreements. See
more details in the Recommended Action of this EDRi-gram.

EU PNR Directive proposal

European Commission’s Legal Service says EU-USA PNR agreement is “not
compatible with fundamental rights”

Air passenger data plans in US-EU agreement are illegal, say lawyers

Papers please!

No PNR (mostly in German)

EDRi-gram: Recommended Action: PNR Postcard Campaign(13.07.2011)

(Contribution by Joe McNamee – EDRi)