Law enforcement agencies just want all the data they can get their hands on, regardless of justification - so said disgruntled MEPs at the European Parliament’s hearing on PNR on Tuesday.
The PNR (Passenger Name Records) Directive is a proposed EU law that would force airlines to hand over personal information about all passengers flying in or out of Europe.
The law was first proposed in 2011, but was rejected by EuroParl’s justice and home affairs committee in April last year. MEPs voting against it questioned the necessity and proportionality of the scheme. But debate has once again gained momentum thanks to the activities of terrorist group Islamic State/ISIS. On 30 August, the European Council called for work on the proposal to be finished by the end of the year.
Speaking in favour of the law on Tuesday, British MEP, Timothy Kirkhope said threats to EU security are much greater than they were one year ago.
But German MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht said there was no justification for storing the private information (PNR data includes name, phone number, email address, credit card details as well as itinerary information) and it may even be illegal. He pointed to the European Court of Justice ruling against blanket data retention on 8 April.
"Demands for saving passenger data without cause is nothing more [than] a placebo. They try to react to people's fears at the cost of citizens' rights and principles of the rule of law. These data will not help finding pretended IS fighters. In many cases, foreign fighters are well-known suspects meaning basic approaches for investigation and threats already exist," he said.
But Europol director Rob Wainwright disagrees: “Reasonable measures to allow law enforcement access to PNR in Europe are essential in the fight against terrorism.”
Dutch MEP Sophie In’t Veld said: “If EU PNR is really urgent, then member states should get their act together and adopt Data Protection Directive first.
“They are not sincere. They want unlimited powers, they don’t want to be bound by rules or data protection authorities and that’s the reality. Of course police and security services should get the instruments they need to fight crime, but not more,” she said.
In’t Veld called on ministers or law enforcement authorities to “produce some credible evidence” that collecting this private information does help to prevent crime, pointing out that it is a legal requirement that such measures are “necessary and proportional”.
She also implied that the European Commission, which originally proposed the law, was manipulating the situation. “The main justification for the law now is the need for harmonisation. But a year ago there was no need for such a thing because only the UK had a fully fledged PNR system. So what did the Commission do? It funded 15 national PNR systems - that’s a way of creating your own reality. That’s a bribe!” she said.
Wainwright also told the same hearing that “the encryption of communications by criminal suspects online - and the increasing difficulty faced by police in overcoming this - is one of the biggest challenges” in fighting crime.
Last week, six countries – including the UK, France and Germany – had an informal meeting about PNR leading to dramatic headlines suggesting the UK might stop German planes from landing if they don’t hand over the data. ®