Earlier this year shootings in Paris and Belgium prompted renewed calls for an agreement on European Passenger Name Records (PNR), which had been blocked for more than a year by objections in the Parliament.
PNR is a method of collecting, saving and possibly using the names of passengers entering or leaving the EU and may also include the collection of other types of information, such as travel dates, travel itinerary, ticket information, contact details, baggage information and payment information. It would therefore, of course, have an impact on our rights to privacy and data protection and while recognising the need to look at all available methods to tackle terrorism MEPs have also been seeking to ensure that the proposal is limited in its scope and includes strict data protection safeguards.
The European Commission made a proposal on this some time ago but it was rejected by the Parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee because of concerns about data privacy and insufficient guarantees over when and how the data would be used. The problem is how to strike the right balance between security and privacy.
Readers may not be aware that some EU member states, including the UK, are already using a type of PNR system for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime. It is believed that the analysis of the data enables law enforcement authorities to identify and further investigate those with no previous record of involvement in serious crime or terrorism.
In the European Parliament a resolution on PNR was voted on in February, and then reiterated in July when the Parliament committed itself to working towards the finalisation of an EU PNR directive by the end of the year. The amended rules remain contentious and were approved only by 32 votes to 27.
Most would agree that the challenges the EU is facing with terrorism, violent extremism, cross-border organised crime and cybercrime require co-ordinated actions at national, EU and global level. The PNR proposal is that rather than a patchwork of differing systems in different member states, there would be a harmonised and regulated method of collecting and using the data throughout the EU. The PNR rules would apply to air carriers and non-carriers such as travel agencies and tour operators operating international flights, i.e. those to or from the EU. They would not apply to flights between EU member states.
I share the concerns of many as to the right balance between prevention policies and repressive measures and the need to preserve freedom, security and justice and note from the text of the resolution that the EU lacks an agreed definition of ‘national security’.
I welcome however the clause that identifies that the root causes of crime, such as increasing inequality, poverty, racial and xenophobic violence and hate crimes, cannot be addressed by security measures alone, but need to be addressed in a wider policy context, including improved social, employment, educational, cultural and external policies.