On February 11th, the European Parliament has adopted a resolution in which it commits to work toward finalising, by the end of 2015, a directive on EU Passenger Name Records (PNR). This proposal aims at the systematic data collection, retention and analysis by national authorities of passengers taking flights entering or leaving the EU. This data, originally collected by airline companies, contains plethora of personal data, from passengers’ personal and contact details, itinerary, payment methods, to sometimes even food preferences.
The PNR is not a recent proposal: in fact, it was introduced for the first time in 2011, by the Home Affairs department of the EU Commission; but was rejected with a significant majority, in April 2013, by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties (LIBE) Committee. Nevertheless, 2 months later, the LIBE Committee has been asked by the European Parliament to reconsider its position, the reason why PNR is now back to the Committee’s agenda.
While presented by its defenders as a necessary measure for fighting terrorism, the PNR could have a severe impact on rights to privacy and data protection. Indeed, notwithstanding the current discourse aiming to reassure that fundamental rights protections guaranteed under EU law won’t be undermined by PNR, aspects of the proposal tell a very different story. In particular, PNR envisages retaining all passenger data for 5 years, which appears to be in contradiction to last year’s decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) regarding data retention. Moreover, several organisations, such as the Fundamental Rights Agency, the Article 29 working party on data protection, and the EDPS, have already warned that such disposition lacks inherently of proportionality (For more information, see our previous article on this topic).
The decision to carry on with a project that has previously been rejected by the Parliament raises some important questions about the political pressure behind getting this proposal through. What’s worse, this week’s vote shows a visible U-turn of MEPs from some of the most fierce opponents on the issue. Indeed, initially opposed to the PNR, in the wake of the recent Paris attacks, the socialists are now “ready to discuss improving PNR”. Even the Greens, which although still positioning themselves in opposition with this proposal, seemed ready to adopt a compromised approach.
The LIBE Committee will consider a revised proposal on PNR (likely to be tabled at the end of February). Access Now urges MEPs to not let their decision be obscured by the recent tragic events in Paris, and calls on EU citizens to reach out to their elected representatives to ensure they will withstand the political pressure and defend our rights and the rule of law. Now more than ever it is essential to uphold fundamental rights and freedoms, and not succumb to the narrative that more surveillance will bring more security.
Contribution by Justine Chauvin