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EU air passenger database about to take flight, but critics want it grounded

Loek Essers | Jan. 29, 2015
The European Commission is reportedly revving up the engines on a controversial plan to retain passenger flight data across the EU, although a prior attempt got its wings clipped due to privacy concerns.

The proposal, leaked ahead of an informal EU ministerial meeting in Riga where anti-terror measures will be discussed, is "a re-heated version of the existing, stalled proposal," Philipp Albrecht, vice-chairman of the Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, said in a statement.

"Following the crystal clear judgement by the European Court of Justice last year, which declared blanket mass surveillance measures as incompatible with EU fundamental rights, it is unthinkable that the Commission would try and bulldoze through a PNR scheme based on blanket data collection," he said, adding that instead of creating a vast data dragnet, targeted surveillance would be a better solution.

However, Albrecht might have a tough sell in the civil liberties committee after the Paris attacks. The European Parliament's rapporteur on the PNR proposal, Timothy Kirkhope, and a small subgroup of the committee are set to meet with Commission officials and national experts on Feb. 4 to discuss how to go ahead with the plan, according to one of his office's staffers.

"PNR has been proven as vital in the fight against terrorism," Kirkhope said earlier this month, adding that he wants an agreement that safeguards lives and liberties by offering stronger data protection rules.

"EU heads of government and home affairs ministers would not ask for this agreement unless there were a clear and present need for it," he said, vowing to work with the committee to get the broadest agreement as possible. "There are a few people in the committee who will never be convinced, but I believe there is a majority that can be found for a revised proposal."

According to information on the Parliament's website, the use of PNR data is not currently regulated at the EU level, but some member states have a PNR system, including the U.K., while other member states have either passed laws or are testing PNR data systems. An EU-wide PNR system would centralize the collection and processing of the data.

 

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