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Published on December 7th, 2015 | by Alan Dwyer

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EU agrees a proposal for a Directive on the sharing of Airline passenger information

On 4th December, it was announced that the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council of the European Commission, meeting in Brussels, had agreed on a proposal for a Directive of the Council and the European Parliament, on the use of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime system. The proposed PNR Directive will allow the sharing of airline passenger information, including names, contact details and credit cards, in a bid to improve counter-terrorism efforts.

Etienne Schneider the Minister of Internal Security of  Luxembourg

Etienne Schneider the Minister of Internal Security of Luxembourg

Luxembourg minister, Etienne Schneider, who chaired the Council meeting, said that “the compromise agreed today will enable the EU to set up an effective PNR system which fully respects fundamental rights and freedoms”.

PNR includes name, travel dates, itinerary, ticket details, contact details, travel agent, means of payment, seat number and baggage information held by air carriers. The PNR system was first proposed in 2007, but faced many hurdles, with many legislators failing to support it, because of privacy concerns. The Stockholm Programme, agreed in December 2009, included a commitment to look at the establishment of an EU PNR system. The Commission originally presented a proposal for a PNR Directive on 2nd February 2011.

The proposed Directive will oblige air carriers to transfer PNR data of passengers on international flights (in and out of the EU), to the Member States of arrival or departure. It also allows for the transfer of PNR data of passengers on intra-EU flights and the Council has agreed on a draft declaration, signalling its intent, to make use of this provision. German members of parliament in particular have been strong opponents of mass data collection, recalling previous abuses and recent revelations regarding US data surveillance.

While many European police forces already collect such data, and indeed share it with each other, as well as with countries outside Europe, the lack of a common EU system, including data formats, has been seen as a major stumbling block in improving security efforts.

However, a new proposal from EU legislators and a new sense of urgency was brought to the negotiations following the 13th November attacks in Paris and finally gained support from the Interior Ministers meeting. The revised proposed had been tabled by lead MEP Timothy Kirkhope (UK) back in February and he has steered the legislation ever since (see here).

The Directive proposes that data is made available to other countries’ security agencies for six months and stored and available under stricter rules for a further 4½ years. As an example of the difficulties in reaching the compromise France had originally wanted a year’s easy availability while the EU parliament wanted just three months. The French had also called for the rules to apply not only to flights to and from non-EU countries but to internal European Union flights and as noted above, this has been left as an option. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, however said he was satisfied, since all 28 states had pledged to implement the option of collecting internal flight data, adding that, it would be “indispensable in the fight against terrorism.”

Minister Fitzgerald and officials at the JHA Council

Minister Fitzgerald and officials at the JHA Council

Speaking following the meeting, Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald said, “We all agree on the importance of this Directive and I like many of my counterparts have been actively engaging with Parliamentarians to drive home the message that achieving an effective, workable and ambitious PNR agreement is key in the fight against terrorism and organised crime”.

“We have a good agreement and we should now move to focusing on its implementation” she added.

In addition to reaching agreement on the PNR Directive and as part of the fight against terrorism, Ministers discussed the progress made in relation to the measures identified previously by the Council to counter terrorism. Ministers reinforced the commitment of the Council to addressing the issues of intelligence and information sharing, tackling the illegal trade in firearms, and countering terrorist financing and to introducing an enhanced coordinated response by the EU to address the issue of aviation security.

The Council also succeeded in reaching agreement on a proposal for a Regulation on the European Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation and Training (Europol) which will enhance the supply of information by Member States to Europol; increase its accountability; reinforce the data protection regime applicable to it and improve the governance of the agency. Europol is the EU’s law enforcement and criminal intelligence agency and the EU Internet Referral Unit at Europol, which was launched on 1st July, is working hard to help to reduce the volume of terrorist material online, and counter radicalisation narratives. On 3rd December, the EU Internet Forum was launched, with the participation of Ministers and high-level representatives of internet companies.

The Council also agreed to a pilot project with Europol that will seek new ways of enhancing information exchange between police forces. The Automated Data Exchange Process (ADEP) will test a system allowing for the automatic querying of other Members States’ databases on a ‘hit/no hit’ basis. Where there is a ‘hit’, existing forms of exchange can be used to seek the information. No real data will be exchanged during the initial pilot phase, which is aimed at testing the technological processes involved. In a comment Minister Fitzgerald said, “Ireland is well-known among our EU partners for promoting policing cooperation and this is another example. I am happy to support the Garda Síochána’s participation in this pilot scheme, which could have significant benefits down the line in relation to the efficiency of information exchange.”

Earlier, the Commission presented a proposal for a Directive on Terrorism, to criminalise not only the act of terrorism, but also all preparations involved such as travelling, training, and financing. This means that foreign terrorist fighters will be criminally prosecuted in the same way all across the EU.

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