MEPs seek delay to passenger data vote

Refusing to provide passenger data to the US would not be helpful, according to European Parliament PNR lead Sophie In 't Veld
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The committee responsible for European air passenger data policy has asked the European Parliament to postpone a vote that could halt the flow of data records to the US.

The idea is to give the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee and the parliament more time to agree on rules for the transfer of passenger name record (PNR) data, so that lawmakers' concerns over data protection can be taken into account, the parliament said in a statement on Friday.

"Partly, we need to systematically harmonise the set of principles [around PNR]," said MEP Sophie In 't Veld, the rapporteur for the committee, on Tuesday. "We need a single model based on EU standards and law."

The vote, which has not been scheduled for a set date yet, covers temporary agreements to provide air passenger data to the US and other countries.

Passenger name records, which cover everyone entering or leaving a country by air, were originally drawn up for commercial purposes, but have since been used to track criminals. In 't Veld said she will push for PNR data provision to comply with basic EU data protection law, which it does not at the moment.

"A red-line minimum requirement is that the purpose is limited," In 't Veld told ZDNet UK. "The purpose which the data is used for at the moment is much too wide and vague."

In addition, agreements with third countries should be binding, she added, and the data of EU citizens would have to enjoy the same protections as the data of citizens in the third-party country.

Currently, the European Union has temporary agreements with the US, Canada, and Australia that require airlines to provide various details on passengers before a flight. The most stringent agreement is with the US, which forces carriers to give details of all passengers, including name, payment details, itinerary, seat number and place of ticket purchase.

The supply of such data to the US was found to be illegal in 2004 under EU law by the European Court of Justice, in part due to the wholesale nature of the data provision.

As that temporary agreement was found to be illegal, MEPs would vote to reject it, according to In 't Veld. This would put carriers in a difficult position, as under US law they have to provide those details to the US, said In 't Veld. Essentially, they would not be able to comply with both EU law and US law.

To simply allow the 'no' vote against PNR to go ahead and let the carriers sort it out with the US would not be helpful, said In 't Veld.

"It's better for us to indicate at an early stage what we want," said In 't Veld. "I think we should influence progress from the start, which would give us a much clearer mandate."

In 't Veld said that more countries are beginning to request PNR data, including Korea, India and China, and that the EU needed a coherent set of principles to decide the data that carriers can provide.

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