EU- PNR: “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”


Since last February, the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament (LIBE) has been discussing a legislative proposal for airline passenger data sharing called the EU Passenger Name Record Directive (EU-PNR). As negotiations proceed, Access and EDRi are contacting members of the LIBE Committee to remind them not to make the same mistake that the EU did in adopting the Data Retention Directive: passing legislation that violates fundamental human rights.

So far, the trajectory of both the Data Retention Directive and the EU PNR proposal are strikingly similar. As shown in our infographic, the two proposals were originally rejected by the EU Parliament due to serious concerns about their impact on fundamental rights. Yet in both cases, under intense pressure from member states, the Parliament was asked to reconsider its position. Worse, negotiations for both proposals were fast tracked in the wake of tragic terrorist attacks. EU citizens are worried and wondering what to do to prevent such attacks, but fast-tracking legislation that sacrifices fundamental rights and freedoms is never the right answer. And in the case of the EU Directive on Data Retention, eight years after its adoption, the legislation was invalidated by the European Court of Justice.

The Data Retention Directive required all telecommunications data – including traffic and location data – to be indiscriminately collected and retained by providers for a minimum of six months and up to two years. The European Court of Justice found that processing and accessing personal data by authorities constitutes a “serious interference” with the rights to privacy and data protection as guaranteed under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Notably, when the Court made its ruling invalidating the Directive, the judgment was welcomed by several prominent members of the LIBE Committee:

Sophie in’t Veld, from the Liberals group, said: “It is good that the legislature gets a slap on the wrist. Now we can finally delete this unsound law”.

Jan Albrecht, member of the Greens party, added that: “Greens and civil rights activists have for years called for a light to be shone on the facts, and this is now possible: the evidence clearly shows that indiscriminate, highly intrusive data collection not only infringes human rights to privacy and data protection but has also totally failed to lead to any noticeable improvement in law enforcement”.

Unfortunately, the EU is now on the verge of repeating this mistake. The LIBE Committee is currently debating the EU-PNR proposal. Under the text being discussed, passengers data collected under the program could later be compared with information in other databases. This would create profiles of citizens that would enable government authorities to track their every move — both within and outside the EU.

Oddly, the person proposing this text, Timothy Kirkhope, UK member of the conservative party, declared the following after the Data Retention Directive ruling: “[The] fact that data are retained and subsequently used without the subscriber or registered user being informed is likely to generate in the persons concerned a feeling that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance”.

We agree with that statement and oppose any measure that would create such surveillance. We share the views of Birgit Sippel, Member of the LIBE Committee for the Socialist group, who notes: “Last April the European Court of Justice declared the data retention directive invalid for violating citizens’ fundamental rights. We cannot make the same mistake twice. We first need legal clarity on whether and under which conditions data retention schemes are compatible with European fundamental rights”.

Access strongly urges the European Parliament to learn from past mistakes and reject the EU-PNR proposal.


Have a closer look at the infographic here!