May 03 2009

EU Council renews push for government access to PNR data

The Council of the European Union has put forward its new version of the “Proposal for a Council Framework Decision on the use of Passenger Name Record (PNR) for law enforcement purposes” originally made by the European Commission. (More background on the proposal is available from Statewatch.)

The latest Council version of the proposal is essentially the same as the original Commision proposal, with only trivial changes in repsonse to input from Council members.  Like the original version introduced by the European Commission, the new Council version of the PNR proposal would require each member state to establish a new surveillance agency (a government “Passenger Information Unit” or PIU), and would require each airline operating flights to, from, or within the EU to make PNR data available to the PIU of each origin or destination state.

The Council appears to have entirely ignored the criticisms raised by the European Parliament in its consideration of the PNR proposal, as detailed in its most recent November 2008 resolution withholding Europarl approval. As the Europarl rapporteur said in the plenary session preceeding the vote:

I think the European Parliament is a serious partner, fully available to give input in this process. However, we will only issue a formal position once there are full, satisfactory and detailed answers to all the concerns and objections that were raised on several occasions by the European Parliament, the European Data Protection Supervisor, the national data protection authorities, the fundamental rights agencies and the airlines, because I think they are entitled to a real answer.

The latest Europarl vote in favor of this resolution (and against approval of the PNR proposal) was overwhelming: 512 to 5, with 19 abstentions.  Under the “codecision” procedure, Europarl approval is required in order for the PNR proposal to be adopted.  But neither the Commission nor the Council have responded in any meaningful way to their critics, or provided any evidence that any benefit of the PNR scheme would be proportionate to the grave damage it would do to funadamental freedoms.

Europeans should encourage their MEPs to continue to demand answers before they approve any scheme with such profound implications for justice and civil liberties, and not to allow the EU to repeat the mistakes made by the U.S. in establishing PNR-based systems of travel surveillance and control.

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