After being stuck for 2 years, the EP civil liberties committee narrowly passed (32-27) its position on the Passenger Name Records directive. The directive was proposed by the Commission in 2011, Member States agreed their general approach (negotiating guidelines) in 2012, but in 2013 the civil liberties committee practically buried it. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, however, the EP agreed to continue work on several data protection issues, including PNR, so that they are finalized this year. According to the EP, PNR is also necessary since different Member States already apply PNR measures and it is better to have a single robust system for the whole EU. Also, the EU has bilateral PNR treaties with the US, Canada and Australia, so the system in fact already exists, although only in a limited way.
The committee agreed that air carriers, as well as other related agencies (e.g. tour operators who do not themselves operate the flights, but do manage them), will be obliged to share their passengers´ data with member states´ Passenger Information Units (PIUs). There are over 60 categories of data covered by the EP´s version of PNR. The data should be shared via Europol´s database. For the initial 30 days period, the whole data will be accessible to the PIUs. After 30 days, the data will be “masked” (made available only for specially trained investigators) and stored for 4 years for a catalogue of trans-national crimes (human trafficking, child pornography or cybercrime) and 5 years in case of terrorism. After those periods, the data will have to be deleted.
Perhaps most importantly, PNR will only apply to routes to and from the EU. Intra-EU flights will not be covered. This issue, however, remains largely opened, since Member States want PNR to apply for all flights originating or landing in the EU and the parliamentary rapporteur expects changes.
Although the issue was revived by Charlie Hebdo, it remains controversial mainly among the Greens and on the left side of the political spectrum. Some point out, that PNR resembles indiscriminate data storage, which was made illegal by the European Court of Justice recently. The indication if they are right will come soon, since the Court is currently assessing the EU-Canada PNR treaty. Negotiations with the Council will be opened in autumn.
2nd May 2018