European plan for blanket collection of air passengers’ data clears key hurdle
A European counter-terror plan to collect personal data on all passengers travelling in and out of has cleared a major hurdle after three years of detailed negotiations.
The British home secretary, Theresa May, , welcomed the development, while data protection watchdogs criticised the proposed large-scale “indiscriminate collection of personal data”.
Britain is expected to be among those first in the queue to opt into a voluntary provision to store for up to five years the personal details of all those travelling within the as well.
The scheme will cover both scheduled and charter flights and involves the collection of 42 separate pieces of information in advance on every passenger, including itinerary, bank card details, home address and meal preferences such as halal. The records will be used by the police and security services to screen passengers before departure to identify potential terror and serious crime suspects and track their movements.
After a seven-year battle, the way was finally cleared when the European parliament’s civil liberties committee voted on Thursday by 38 votes to 19 and two abstentions to drop its long-term opposition in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.
European data protection watchdogs have described the scheme as “the first large-scale and indiscriminate collection of personal data in the history of the European Union”, and it is regarded as a major security development for the EU.
Details can be held for six months before being “masked”, or anonymised, and for five years without the person’s name being revealed. The data may be used only for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime.
Details of passengers flying to the US, Canada and Australia from the EU have been automatically transferred before departure to security officials since 2011. A proposal to apply a similar demand to all international flights in and out of the EU had been blocked by the European parliament on privacy grounds, until the Paris attacks led to a compromise.
MEPs wanted to ensure the data was kept for just six months before identifying details were removed, and they did not favour intra-EU flights being included.
Although optional, all EU member states have now agreed in a joint declaration that they will share data on flights within Europe as well as to and from the rest of the world.
May said: “I have always been clear of the importance of passenger name records in the fight against terrorism and serious crime and I welcome the results of today’s vote to finalise an effective EU directive.
“Analysis of PNR [passenger name records] is often the only way of identifying previously unknown individuals who pose a threat to the safety of the public here or abroad and, following the horrendous attacks in Paris last month, I am pleased that our EU counterparts also recognise the need for this crucial set of data.”
Timothy Kirkhope, a Conservative MEP who led the PNR campaign in the European parliament, said the system looked at patterns of behaviour rather than the profile of each passenger. “We cannot wait any longer to put this system in place. The choice is not between an EU PNR system and no EU PNR system. It is between an EU PNR system and 28 national PNR systems that will have vastly differing, or absent, standards for protecting passenger data,” he said.
Sophie in ‘t Veld, the Dutch vice-chairman of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe, who voted against PNR on Thursday, said the proposal only gave a false sense of security. “National security and law enforcement authorities will be able to retain passenger data in an near-unlimited manner. We could have agreed to a well balanced proposal of purposeful data retention, sufficient protection of civilians’ rights and mandatory sharing of intelligence. The current proposal only gives a false sense of security,” she said.
The PNR directive is now expected to be endorsed by a full vote of the European parliament in the new year before being implemented later next year.
The British House of Lords has identified 42 separate pieces of data provided by passengers at the time of booking, check-in or boarding that airlines need to hand over to the police and security services under the scheme.
They go far beyond the usual advance passenger data requirement of name, date of birth, passport number and nationality. The EU directive groups them in 19 separate fields most of which include separate elements.
The 42 categories are:
• Passport number.
• Country which issued passport.
• Passport expiry date.
• Given names.
• Last name.
• Date of birth.
• Passenger name record locator code.
• Date of reservation.
• Date(s) of intended travel.
• Other names on passenger name record (PNR).
• All forms of payment information.
• Billing address.
• Contact telephone numbers.
• All travel itinerary for specific PNR.
• Frequent flyer information.
• Travel agency.
• Travel agent.
• Code share PNR information.
• Travel status of passenger.
• Split/divided PNR information.
• Email address.
• Ticketing field information.
• General remarks.
• Ticket number.
• Seat number.
• Date of ticket issued.
• No-show history.
• Bag tag history.
• Go-show information.
• Other service-related information.
• Special service requests, such as meal preferences.
• Received from information.
• All historical changes to PNR.
• Number of travellers on PNR.
• Seat information.
• One-way tickets.
• Any collected advanced passenger information system information.
• Automatic ticketing fare quote.
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