May 05 2010

European Parliament hands DHS a setback on access to PNR data

Today the Department of Homeland Security received its most significant rebuff from any democratically elected body since the DHS was created after September 11, 2001.

In response to a recommendation from the Council of the European Union (the EU member national governments) for approval of the “interim” agreement under which the DHS obtains all airline reservations (PNRs) for flights between the USA and the EU, the European Parliament instead voted to send the European Commission back to the negotiating table, and set strict conditions (which the DHS will likely be in part unable and in part unwilling to meet) that must be satisfied before Parliament will approve any such agreement in the future.

The motion for a resolution was jointly sponsored by representatives of all seven political groups in the Parliament. The votes by show of hands — including votes in favor of several amendment to strengthen the resolution — were overwhelming, with insufficient opposition to necessitate recorded votes.  And that was in spite of what our sources in the Parliament tell us was an unprecedented and heavy-handed US government lobbying campaign.

The vote today in Brussels follows a Parliamentary hearing (at which we testified) and a debate last month in Strasbourg on travel surveillance and control, the likes of either of which the US Congress has yet to hold — despite the leading role of the US since September 11, 2001 (and even before then) in implementing a system of mandatory retention of travel data, using it as the basis for a permission-based travel control regime, and attempting to get these schemes adopted as global norms.

The ability of the Parliament to dictate conditions for negotiations to be conducted by the European Commission, with the implicit threat to veto any agreement that fails to meet those conditions, is one of the first expressions (the first was Europarl rejection of DHS access to European inter-bank wire transfer data) of the new veto power that the Parliament acquired in December 2009 when the Lisbon Treaty came into effect.

What has the European Parliament done? What happens next? And what else remains to be done, outside the negotiating room? Read More